Kitchen Cloths 

This summer I have been slacking on my writing! I apologize. I have a quick tidbit for you today to (hopefully) get us back on a steady posting schedule.

In the kitchen, paper towels and other disposable products are banned from the zero waste lifestyle. This includes napkins and sanitizing products (like Clorox wipes). In my experience, I have learned that different sets of rags must have different uses.

Napkins and Hand Towels

The cloths we use when we eat and cook must stay separate from those we use to clean. I have a set of white washcloths and hand towels to use specifically for the purpose of napkins and, well, hand towels. Let’s call these my “food-grade cloths.” I put them in their own laundry basket, which I keep in the laundry room off my kitchen, when they are dirty. (Sorry, I just washed them, hence the inspiration for this post, so I have no picture of the dirty basket.)


When they’re clean, I fold them neatly and put them in their clean basket for dispensing.


Rags

I have separate dispensing and dirty laundry storage for rags, which I use for dirty kitchen jobs like cleaning surfaces which could have gross bacteria. I use these rags in other areas of the house, as well (but not the bathroom). I don’t want these rags to come into contact with my food-grade cloths. All dirty rags go into their special bucket, and when washed, go into the “rag drawer.”


It ain’t pretty, and it ain’t meant to be. I don’t spend time caring for my rags. They’re as low-maintenance as possible. The key to sustaining a zero or less-waste lifestyle is making it easy on yourself. Rip up some tee shirts or grab some old towels (or buy some at the thrift store) and you’ve got yourself a rag supply. Toss em in a drawer or basket, and you’re all set.

*There is one more dirty rag bucket in my laundry room, which is for the rags I use in the bathroom. I will do a separate post on my recommendations for those, since this one is devoted to kitchen cloths.

The Wash

I already mentioned that I store the clean and dirty food-grade cloths and dirty rags separately and wash them separately. However, when I wash them, I put them all through the same wash routine diaper wash routine). I run a cold rinse cycle, then wash on hot heavy duty. I add bleach if necessary. Tumble dry. I just wash when I run out, usually every week and a half or two.

No more wasted money on paper towels and napkins!

3 Steps to Better Zero Waste Homemaking

I have been on a bender. A homemaking bender! I’ve been checking out books from the library on homemaking and housekeeping like a mad woman; devouring these books looking for ways to tidy, organize, and ultimately make my life easier. I’ve always valued my living space, ensuring things are well-decorated and functional, but for some reason I’ve never recognized those things as homemaking, per se. Plus, I’m an artist, and in the past I have been known to be sloppy in my living space because of my “creative tendencies.” I have finally come to realize (and mustered up the necessary energy) that I need to arrange my home so that I can go about my daily life in an organized fashion, without wasting time, effort, money, or creating too much trash.

Homemaking is actually quite important. It is undervalued in our society as a job or even a task. The idea is that everything has a place and there are systems so that the family can go about busy, daily life without the frustrations caused by disorganization, mess, or even uncleanliness. Now, I’m not trying to be Betty Crocker or something. I am just very sold on the idea that my life could be easier if I (1) got the crap under control and (2) created a system of living in my home that serves and streamlines our lifestyle (rather than impedes it).

In order to do this, I have had to embrace the chores of the home, i.e., organizing and housekeeping. Previously, I have resisted the day-to-day tasks of housekeeping. I have resented them and thought I didn’t have time for them. I have tried to shoulder too much of the burden and thus set myself up for failure when nothing got done (household division of labor is beyond this post, but it plays a big role in housekeeping). All of this results in a messy and dirty house (as one can imagine) (but it wasn’t like a pigsty or anything, I’m making it sound a lot worse than it actually was). Because I have been so chaotic in my approach to homemaking, I have been unsuccessful at it and, more importantly, have not enjoyed either homemaking OR my home! It is hard to keep a disorganized house clean, and it’s frustrating to be up against that every day. It’s also hard to streamline a busy life (including efforts to reduce waste) if things are out of order. This is why I am devoting this summer (and probably the fall) to going through my entire house and turning it into a home. A functional, clean, waste-free home.

Through my research, I’ve identified three steps to better homemaking in general and to facilitate a zero waste lifestyle. I’ll be following these steps this summer:

  1. Declutter and Tidy
  2. Arrange and Implement Systems
  3. Maintain the Systems

What do these steps entail?

Declutter and Tidy 

Go through your home room-by-room, through every nook and cranny, and remove the things that are not serving a purpose. There are two books where you can find good inspiration for this: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up and the companion book Spark Joy by Marie Kondo. Here is the author’s website. The basic idea is that if something is not serving a purpose, either a functional household purpose or the purpose of bringing you joy, get rid of it.

When cutting the clutter and throwing things out, obviously we are going to avoid tossing things in the garbage. I intend to write a later post about specific items and how to recycle them.

Arrange and Implement Systems 

This step is specific to your home and lifestyle. How is your house or apartment laid out? How do you put your space to work? What is your routine, and where are you wasting energy because something is out of place? Take an honest look at what you use certain spaces for, and make those spaces work for you. If you always drop your coat and purse on the entryway table, why not hang a hook nearby to reduce clutter on the table? If you store your coffee across the room from your coffee pot, why not consolidate the coffee items into one corner of the kitchen? If you iron clothes when they come out of the drier but your ironing board is on the other side of the house from your laundry room, why not move it closer to the laundry room (or somewhere that makes sense for your routine)? These suggestions are just the tip of the iceberg. You would be surprised how much easier your routine can be after a simple change in your arrangement.

Implementing systems means taking a look at what your current routine is (or whether you have one at all), and editing it for efficiency. What do you do daily, weekly, and monthly by way of housekeeping? Is there something that’s just not getting done? How could you rearrange your space, time, or division of labor so it does get done?

Decorating is also included within this step. When implementing systems, keep aesthetics in mind. You may find you need a different piece of furniture to accommodate a new use for the living room. In the spirit of zero waste, make sure it’s something that you love, your style, and that you’ll use it for a very long time. Further, just because you’re a zero waster or a minimalist doesn’t mean you can’t have decorative things you enjoy looking at. I firmly believe that it’s okay to love your things; in fact, you must–you have to live with them.

Practically, this step is probably intertwined with the first. When you go room-by-room, you’ll be closely inspecting everything you have there. Once the discarded items are out, you’ll look closely at what you’re left with. Rearrange the furniture so it’s more functional. Maybe even move a piece of furniture to another room where it will work better. Take all the stuff out of drawers, shelves, bins, etc. and put it back in an orderly way. Fold stuff. You may notice you need to acquire a piece of furniture, shelving, or bins to better organize your stuff. Check out some books at the library about organization; you can look for ideas tailored to your particular needs.

Sidenote: Creating an attractive home is perfectly achievable on a budget. It just takes a little more time and vigilance to find things second-hand (which is what we do as zero wasters, anyway). More detail on this later, as well.

Maintain the Systems (and edit when necessary)

The idea of the first two steps is that you whittle down your home into the most functional arrangement with the most functional things that you love. The last step is ongoing maintenance and editing. This is really where “housekeeping” comes in, whereas the first two steps are homemaking. After you’ve made the home, it just needs to be kept up. You’ll probably find that some edits need to be made to your systems or arrangements as kids grow or schedules change. Most importantly, it will be worlds easier to keep a clean house when the junk is under control and everything has its place.

You may be thinking: what does this have to do with zero waste? But trust me, this is the foundation we need to set up a zero waste home. It’s something I myself have been needing to do so I can take my zero wasting efforts to the next level. By implementing these three steps, you will position yourself to be much more organized to get into the nitty-gritty of a zero waste lifestyle. Good luck! And keep an eye out for my progress, it’s going to be a good summer!

 

 

Toothbrush Your Shoulder Off

Does anyone else keep their old toothbrush thinking they will use it at a later date to clean something?

Despite years of saving those things, I have NEVER cleaned anything with a toothbrush. The fantasy is that I adorn myself with the yellow, elbow-length, heavy-duty gloves and really get to work on those hard-to-reach spots. Like behind the faucet. What am I, Mr. Clean? No! Ain’t nobody got time for that. (Although, I probably should make time.)

Well, zero wasters, what should we do with our toothbrushes?

The most zero-waste approach, as with all things, is to not acquire toothbrushes. To use our fingers or something readily available in nature (read: twig). If you’re not willing to do either of those and you must buy a toothbrush, you should get the most sustainable one you can. But what does that look like?

So, what are we trying to accomplish? Zero waste, I know. But what does that mean? Does it mean we don’t generate trash? Does it mean we might make trash, but use less energy than if we didn’t make trash? How can we really break it down enough to know how much energy was used? These are the big questions, guys!

There are options, let’s look at them.* 

As with all products, we need to consider the embodied energy of the material and the useful life of the product in addition to the amount of trash it creates at the end of its useful life.

Brush With Bamboo looks like a sustainable option. The handle is made of bamboo (organic, wild, giant, Chinese Moso bamboo). The bamboo is picked wild from a mountain, so no water is applied to the crop other than that which naturally occurs. It’s organic, so no chemicals are applied to crop. Very little embodied energy so far. But what about the fact that the bamboo is sourced from China? I suppose you could say, well, there are ships coming over from China every day. No harm, no foul, right? I just don’t know. I plan to do some follow up on this in a separate post, but for now I have to be honest about the reservations I have with the sustainability of depending on materials on the other side of the planet (especially when we can grow bamboo here).

The bristles are made of castor bean oil and plastic.  The handle is 100% biodegradable, but the bristles are not (they are “biobased,” but not biodegradable). You can compost the handle yourself if you pluck the bristles. OR, you can use it as a seeding marker in your garden, as pictured. Cute!

toothbrush

Picture taken from the Brush With Bamboo website.

Okay great.

Here’s my question: how energy intensive is it to harvest the bamboo, ship it to the US, and manufacture the brush?

I’m not honestly expecting to find the answer. Not unless some engineer who has done the calculations happens to read my blog and provide me with the answer. (Are you out there? Can you hear me?) For now, it’s important to ask the questions and think more deeply about it.

I want to compare the embodied energy of the bamboo toothbrushes to the ones I’m going to discuss next: recycled plastic.

Here I go again with the plastic. Plastic already exists everywhere in the largest quantities you could ever dream of. It’s literally everywhere. Getting thrown away. Why not use it? Do I think we should use plastic forever? No. But I think we used the energy to pull it out of the ground and make it, so we should use it until its useful life is up.

I have been buying Preserve toothbrushes for a long time now. Honestly, I’ve never given the sustainability aspect much thought, or compared it to other products.  The handle is made with recycled yogurt cups, and the bristles are new nylon. These you can’t compost, but you can send them back to the company for recycling.

The whole premise of Preserve is to provide recycling services of #5 plastics. More than 1/3 of U.S. communities don’t accept #5 for recycling. Thus, Preserve makes its products out of #5 and accepts all #5 for recycling. However, the actual material that gets fabricated for products is made up of multiple other materials, so the company states it is not recyclable in your standard recycling bin.

Note: the City of Tulsa is not in the 1/3 that does not accept #5. We proudly do.

This whole post originated because I dropped my work toothbrush on the floor in the bathroom. I seriously took a moment to consider whether I should take it home to boil it. It only touched the floor for, like, two seconds! Then I realized: no one should put a toothbrush in their mouth that has touched the floor of a semi-public bathroom, no matter how brief a touch and no matter how hardcore a zero-waster one may be. So I have to replace it (I’m sure there are folks more hardy than I who would scoff at this conclusion). I knew the company recycled its used products, but I’d never done it before so I looked it up. Products may be recycled either in a “Gimme 5” dropoff location, or mailed in to the company. Lo and Behold: Tulsa actually has a Gimme 5 dropoff location where I can take this toothbrush!! Whaddaya know! There isn’t a bin, but you can hand off your used brush to an employee at the midtown Tulsa Whole Foods at 1401 E. 41st St. Tulsa, OK 74105. There isn’t a bin, you just have to hand it off to an employee.

Recycle your Preserve toothbrush at the midtown Tulsa Whole Foods at 1401 E. 41st St. Tulsa, OK 74105

Now, if we didn’t have a bin, I would mail in the toothbrush, but I would need to wait until I had more to recycle. (Isn’t that quite the catch: I need to use MORE to use less. All I can do is sigh and shake my head at this concept.) In fact, the more, the better. The company discourages returning less than 6 used items for recycling at a time. This prevents the amount of energy used to recycle the product from outweighing the beneficial use of the product itself. Remember our discussion of embodied energy? Here is an illustration of that. It doesn’t make sense to use more energy processing something something than it is actually worth.

SO, go on (tooth)brush your shoulder off. (One takes the opportunity to parody Jay Z when one is presented with said opportunity.)

*I derive no economic gain or payment from discussing any company or its products included herein, although I should.

Repost: Zero Waste Alternatives

I keep coming back to this post on the zero waste website Trash is for Tossers, out of NYC. It provides graphics comparing the status quo product (Palmolive for your dishes, for example) and the less- or zero-waste, sustainable alternative to that product (64 oz jug of Dr. Bronners, for example). I keep referring to it because it is so practical and there are so many helpful suggestions. The fact is, we buy a lot of products out of habit when a simple change in our consumer choice would make a world of difference in the amount of trash we produce (and money we spend, actually). That is what this post illustrates. So check it out!! Here’s the link! Here is a sneak peak:

trash is for tossers

Screenshot via http://www.trashisfortossers.com/2013/08/zero-waste-alternatives-ultimate-list.html

Sippy Cup Experiment


We are trying something new: only one sippy cup. I bought this stainless steel Klean Kanteen sippy cup at Whole Foods today. This will be the child’s sole drinking vessel at home. Once he gets accustomed to it, I’ll get one for daycare.

We’ve only ever had 4 bottles and 4 sippy cups. That number has dwindled as we’ve broken a bottle (glass), lost a nipple or two, and the dog destroyed a sippy cup. I never have a clean cup to use. Sure, my stash isn’t huge to begin with, but I’m starting to think it’s my mentality (as are usually all things when it comes to reducing waste). If I only have ONE cup to use that must be hand washed, I will be more diligent about keeping it clean.

It’s also come to my attention that plastics (even BPA-free) leach hormone-like chemicals (just google it–no way to link all the articles here). We are exposed to so many hormones from the food in our diets that I figured it doesn’t hurt to cut out the possibility of more exposure.

Stainless steel is more durable than plastic, and therefore more sustainable as a zero waste option. This cup will not break.

Let’s see how this goes!

Cooking Spray Replacement

You don’t have to buy expensive and wasteful cooking sprays. All you need is oil and your hand.

 Put a tablespoon or so of oil (your choice, I cook with olive oil) into your baking pan or dish. Use your hand to distribute the oil onto the surface of the pan.

 Next, just rub the oil into your skin–voila! Hand cream! Olive oil is incredibly nurturing to skin. Many other cooking oils are, as well.

Keep Clothes Out of Landfills

keep-calm-and-thrift-on-5

If you have to shop for clothes, the most zero waste thing to do is buy thrift. There are millions of articles of clothing sitting in thrift store floors and warehouses. Besides that, Americans send 10.5 million tons of clothing to the landfill each year.  (Also read this article if you’re interested in learning more about clothing recycling. I’ll post on that topic later.) The concept of buying thrift rather than new is our zero waste principal of recycling. Some of the best clothes I have are thrift store finds–I’ve been a believer since around the age of 12!

I just found this website through Pinterest, and WOW I am so stoked! I have always wanted to find a site like this. This woman takes tacky thrift store clothes and turns them into cute and stylish outfits. She includes before and after pictures, as well as sewing instructions and steps for transforming the outfit she features. Go take a look! Just to entice you, below is the picture that drew me in. I thought: how in the WORLD could she turn that into something cute, that is so weird! But she TOTALLY did, people. She totally did.

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