Six years later!

Has it been only six years since I saved my trash for seven days?!

I now have two children, five and three, both boys, and sustainable living is one of the last things on my mind!

We’re finally done with diapers (YAY), and we’re packing lunches in mostly-reusable containers. We don’t buy bottled water. But I am taking out a full bag of garbage every day. A lot of that is food–I’m terrified to compost. (Ants!)

I’ve also been diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis. My medicine intake has gone up, and thus I throw away a bunch of plastic pill bottles each week. I would save them if I could find a clever way to reuse them, but let’s say I average seven pill bottles a month… that seems like a lot to use up.

A cheeky, cheeky downside of RA is fatigue–so you can see that I am not eager to spend my energy anywhere but with the family. When my young ones are older, I’ll have more sleep, and thus more energy, and I’ll get back to my old habits.

So… that is my list of how I’m doing poorly, but I do have some good new habits and I’ve kept a few old ones. What am I doing well?

Buying bulk food when possible–I am possibly an expert at this. We have a large assortment of bins in our kitchen.

Taking water bottles everywhere–the children have their own water bottle holders made by my friend Mary. Buy one at her etsy shop!

Cloth napkins–We never use paper napkins at my table. The cloth ones are so easy to throw in the wash, so why not? (I never iron them.)

Sewing with scraps–I have nearly learned to be thrifty with fabric. You can do all kinds of things with scraps.

Cooking–by baking bread, cooking fresh food, generally making it ourselves when we can, we cut down on buying processed/packaged foods. Mostly this is due to my husband being an awesome cook! I have learned quite a lot too.

One year later… Diaper Update!

It feels like a lifetime, not just one year, since I’ve last blogged here! And it literally was a lifetime ago. Ten months ago my son was born, and a few months before that my husband and I bought a house and moved in.

Needless to say my trash has skyrocketed.

I am using g-diapers with my little one. G-diapers are a flushable/compostable paper insert inside a cloth diaper with velcro attachments. I neither flush nor compost his diapers, however. It takes 30-90 days to fully compost just one, and it takes a lot of time to flush the diaper – you have to cut it open and disperse the contents slowly through the pipes. Yep, the paper goes to the landfil. At least I’m not adding plastic to the landfil… except the plastic container that the paper inserts come in…

When my little one was born we used disposable diapers, but switched when he was about a month old. The paper diapers are very very absorbent, so as soon as we switched, his diaper rash disappeared!

We bought three “starter kits” which each have two cloth diapers in them. This way we have six diapers to rotate. Those first few months we did a load of laundry nearly every day.  But well before he was ready for the medium sized g-diapers, we were just washing our normal loads of laundry.

His diapers produce one full kitchen-sized bag of trash a week. (That includes disposable baby wipes.) I also use (and re-use) disposable diaper changing pads, which last for a long time before I toss them.

It’s not as green as it could be.

I might have decided to go all cloth if I had realized exactly how much money I’d be spending on paper inserts (about $80-100 a month). At the time, though, buying nice cloth diapers with velcro would have been about $40 per each and we’d need way more than six of each size. (Does anyone have an estimate of how many cloth diapers in just one day? Maybe 12? Although newborns would need way more than that…)

It’s very time-consuming to be green. I’ll worry more about it when I have the time to actually sleep… Meanwhile, my little guy is just learning to walk! And I am enjoying each little step. 🙂

Safety vs. Sustainability

I’ve just read this LA Times story on a new federal law that starts in a few days, requiring stores to either lead-test their children’s clothes and toys, or (if not tested) to assume the items are hazardous and then chuck them in the garbage.

The regulations include thrift store merchandise, which often serve as an alternative to the trash bin. The regulations apply to all items  on Feb. 10 regardless of their manufacture date – so stockpiles of untested merchandise would, overnight, be considered contraband.

In watching Sustainable Dave’s trash experiment, I learned that health and safety had to take priority over sustainable living. But it seems to me this law creates more waste than safety!

High levels of lead in children’s toys are a terrible danger. Toxins are no fun. I think we do need phthalate regulations. But it simply isn’t realistic to say that all old and untested clothing is so hazardous that it must be thrown out immediately. Let’s put the burden of testing on the manufacturers, not the retailers, so things won’t get made with toxins in the first place.

There’s still a lot of gray area around how this law will be enforced (it can’t be) and interpreted (which may lax restrictions a little, but not much).

My guess? There might be a way around the law for thrift stores (though not really so much for big retailers): thrift stores could keep their untested merchandise, and give it away, and request but not require a donation in return, so that the items aren’t technically “sold.”  It’s not a money-making move by any means, but it would keep merchandise from heading to the landfill…

Good news!

According to Take Back the Filter, Brita has promised to start a take-back recycling program of their filters!

More details are supposed to come out Monday. Meanwhile you can read about it at Take Back the Filter!

Take Back the Filter

The New York Times earlier this month highlighted Beth Terry and the Take Back the Filter campaign. In case you don’t know, Brita water filters are recycled in Europe! This campaign aims to see these filters recycled in the US too.

From the campaign’s most recent newsletter:

“I’ve been asked by several people whether it’s better to buy bottled water since the bottles are recyclable while the Brita filters are not. My response: PLEASE STOP BUYING BOTTLED WATER! There is more plastic in 300 water bottles than in one Brita filter. And the environmental impact of bottling and shipping water long distances is huge. We are not advocating bottled water. We simply want a solution that is as green as it can be. And since Brita in Europe has found a way to recycle the filters, we think that Clorox in the U.S. ought to be able to do the same.”

Take a look at what you can do (it’s easy!) for the campaign on their Web site.

Reducing waste when the waist is growing: My challenges with pregnancy and sustainability

When Dave Chameides at 365 Days of Trash issued his challenge to throw nothing away for seven days, I decided to take him up on it. I would do my best to eliminate generating any trash, and I would save my trash instead of chucking it in a bin, for seven days straight.

I started out my seven-day challenge expecting to make drastic changes in my lifestyle.

But when first-trimester nausea hit halfway through the week, I found myself in the midst of a very different live-changing event!

When a couple discovers they are soon to be parents, they proudly and excitedly start to eat healthy, to exercise, and to read everything they can about the new little one growing inside them.

I decided I wanted to focus on living sustainably through the pregnancy too.

I had learned some very good shopping and planning habits during my seven days of trash. I learned not to buy food in useless packaging. I learned to buy fresh bread. I learned to plan my meals, and pack a water bottle and empty bags and Tupperware with me wherever I went. The solutions were simple and they cut my trash by at least 3/4ths. I was convinced I could keep it up beyond my seven days!

But I failed to take into account my body’s new demands.

Anyone who has experienced morning sickness can tell you it’s really 24/7 sickness. The nausea can only be staved off by eating every hour (and sometimes not even that helps). I turned to ginger, dry toast, apples, and crackers.

But I was supposed to generate as little trash as possible. What wheat crackers don’t come in waxy, unrecyclable plastic that is stuffed inside a cardboard box? Only the home-baked kind, and when you’re curled around a toilet bowl, the last thing you want to do is bake. Ginger, too, helps with nausea–and it took me three weeks to find cystalized ginger that wasn’t sold in a million pounds of useless wrapping (Winco, next to the spices). Meanwhile, did I pass up the evils of foil-plastic-wrapped ginger in heroic self-sacrifice to the betterment of the Earth? No way! I ate packaged ginger like the ravenous, desperate-for-a-peaceful-stomach soon-to-be-mother that I was.

The riot of hormones that come with the miracle of new life growing inside me produced a number of astonishing changes to my taste buds, which started to rebel against my favorite foods. I bought delicious fresh-baked bread every morning during my throw-nothing-away experiment, and I was delighted with the yummy and healthy trash-free ritual. But it wasn’t long before my beautiful mouth-watering dough evoked stomach-turning bile; I had to resort to a tasteless, preservative-laden, stuffed-in-plastic bread that wouldn’t offend my mouth.

Shopping at all was a challenge, too. When exhaustion set in, I didn’t have the luxury of searching for the most environmentally-friendly product on the shelves. When a craving hit at midnight and my blessed husband went running to the store to fetch my body’s curious demands, I hardly had the heart to ask him to avoid Plastic 7. And when pregnancy forgetfulness strikes, it’s all I can do to remember my wallet at the store, let alone the carefully-saved reusable bags I should have brought.

When my mom asked me whether I would do cloth or disposable diapers, I fretted. If my pregnancy was so full of unavoidable trash, what would it be like with an infant? Suddenly it seemed the concepts of family and sustainability were at astronomical odds.

It was my mother-in-law who offered the wisdom that calmed me. Morning sickness, she said, is only supposed to last for the first trimester.

It’s temporary. Maybe during the second trimester I could cut back on the packaged crackers and ginger, I realized. Sure, the second trimester will come with new challenges that may require me to participate in the unsustainable practices I dislike. But those will only be temporary too. When the baby is born, it will be one challenge after another to live sustainably. But those too will be temporary.

I was holding myself to the expectations of the old me, who had different challenges than I did now. Under the circumstances, I was doing pretty well!

Sustainability, like pregnancy, is a process. Though there may be setbacks some weeks, things change. Old problems get better and new ones are presented. Blessedly, each new challenge gives us the opportunity to live healthier and better lives, in the context of our individual situations.

As our lives change, so does Mother Nature. Already microbes have been bred that can more efficiently break down plastic. It’s only a matter of time before the insurmountable plastic problem becomes merely a temporary setback, and an opportunity to get better.

Like the challenges in pregnancy, this one too will be overcome.

Two weeks later: what stuck, and what’s next?

What stuck?

1. Bringing and re-using bags when I leave the house. For the most part I have bags for everything from the bakery to grocery bulk food bags to bags for general purchases.

2. Taking my reusable coffee cup to coffee, to the movies, anywhere. My friend pointed out that not only does it keep coffee hot, but it can keep fruit smoothies cold, too!

3. Being careful in restaurants. I ask for no straws. I need to be in the habit of taking Tupperware, silverware, and a washcloth with me to restaurants – so that needs work. Fortunately some of my favorite places use cloth napkins! Unfortunately, there’s no restaurant I know of that packs your leftovers in a reusable container.

4. Shopping at Farmer’s Markets. I save the egg cartons and strawberry baskets from my purchases and take them back to the vendors at the market, who are happy to reuse them. I can also reuse the bulk food bags for produce gathered there, as long as I’m careful (the scales are already calibrated to take a specific bag’s weight into account).

5. Buying bulk foods when possible. Ten pieces of candied ginger in a cute but very un-recyclable plastic-foil package can be easily passed up for the same thing from the bulk food barrels.

6. Eating fresh CSA (community-supported agriculture) produce has been a wonderful experience for me. I get a box of veggies and fruits delivered to my door once every two weeks, which make for easy snacks and snazzy meals that taste better than produce I usually find at the grocery store. Though it does generate some plastic bag trash, the delivery boxes themselves are reused by the deliverers, Farm Fresh To You.

That’s great. But what didn’t stick? And why not?

A few habits that I’d like to have continued became more difficult when my husband and I made an exciting  discovery about my health: we’re expecting!

With first-trimester nausea settling in, I suddenly found myself in need of foods that are hard to acquire without packaging. What crackers don’t come in a waxy plastic bag, which is then inside a cardboard box or metal tin? Only the kind you bake at home (and believe me, that isn’t happening)! As much as I’d like to shop in a way that cuts back on packaging, that seems astronomically hard to do with a finicky stomach.

The new hormones have also changed my tastebuds drastically – to the point where my husband’s delicious home-made sourdough left a foul aftertaste in my mouth! I’ve found myself buying sliced wheat bread from Raleys because only this specific, tasteless brand seems remotely appealing to my suddenly picky tongue. Foods that I once loved (garlic, bacon, home-baked bread, cookies) now seem too rich for me… so it’s goodbye to delicious trash-free homemade or bakery bread, and hello to preservative-laden, stuffed-in-plastic bread.

What’s next?

Good question!

Clearly in any sustainable lifestyle experiment, health has to come first, especially when it comes to raising a child. I’m alarmed at the rate my trash consumption has grown along with my new diet demands – but what can I really do about it? What should I do?

Though I really agree that reducing demand for one-time-use plastics is the key to helping out the earth, I find myself dreading that not-so-distant day when I’ll have to choose between disposable and cloth diapers! My mother tells me I was raised 100% on cloth (bless her heart), but after that, Dad swore never to go through that again, and my next two siblings were cloth-free. Rumors have it there are biodegradable diapers out there… I’ll have to dig in to figure out our options.

The best thing I can do through the pregnancy is to remain aware of my body’s needs, and to remain aware of the trash created by filling those needs. I can look for ways to cut back on trash, yet ultimately, I will decide to be okay with the trash that I do toss. A sustainable lifestyle can only happen a few steps at a time. This part of the process may set me back a little, but it won’t be permanent. (Nausea for most women will end with the first trimester, so there’s hope I’ll be back to eating good bread soon!) In the meantime, every day’s challenge will be an opportunity to create a healthy lifestyle for myself, and that’s really what this time is about.