Friday, May 27, 2011

Successes and Hurdles: Life In The Green Lane

Moving into a new apartment is stressful. Becoming as "green" as possible at the same time can add to that stress. Then again, what better time to make a major change than when major changes are already occuring? Well, that was my logic anyway.

So I'm taking on the challenge of really greening up my life. One of my main focuses is reducing the amount of things that I purchase that are considered "throw away" items or that come in "throw away" packaging. Another high priority is reducing the amount of plastic (throw away or otherwise) in my life. Pretty much EVERYTHING in this modern world of ours is made from plastic or comes in plastic so to many people the idea of avoiding plastic is just too daunting.

The fact is, many plastics can't be recycled and even those that are recyclable will eventually end up in a landfill because plastic can't be continuously recycled. The best solution is to use less, as much less as you possibly can or are willing to give up. Like I said, plastic is in EVERYTHING so unless you're going to nearly completely remove yourself from the modern world you probably won't be able to get rid of all of the plastic in your life but it's still worth some effort.

It's been about a week since my boyfriend and I started moving into our new apartment. Surprisingly we've found a lot of success in avoiding plastic and reducing our waste. There have been some challenges along the way too. Let's go with the good news first and take a look at some of our successes.

~*~ BAKING SODA!! I'm skipping all the household cleaners that come in plastic and are full of chemicals and using baking soda to clean just about everything. I buy it from the bulk bin and store it in a glass cookie jar with a metal lid. Cleaning uses so far include:
* Laundry (1/2 cup baking soda to wash)
* Dishes (1/2 cup baking soda in the dishwasher or just a dusting of baking soda and a rag to scrub dishes by hand)
* Counters, sinks, shower (sprinkle baking soda, scrub with rag)

~*~ Vinegar - I bought it in a glass jar with a metal screw top. I would like to buy white vinegar in bulk but I haven't found a local source yet.
* Laundry (1/2 cup in the rinse cycle to soften clothes)
* Dishes (In the rinse area where you'd usually put Jet Dry to reduce clouding/spotting on glass)
* Counters, sinks, shower (spray a little after cleaning then wipe down to disinfect. It will also react with the baking soda so you won't have a silty residue everywhere)

~*~ Furniture - We've collected a lot of used furniture so far and it's all in good condition. The production of new furniture takes a lot of resources and energy so used is good! We still need to find a few more pieces so I'll be yard sale hunting soon.

~*~ Trash bin - I found a 10 gallon metal can with a lid for $10. Used would have been good too but I didn't see any. I also found "plastic bags" made from corn that are completely biodegradable. The corn industry has a lot of problems of it's own but I guess we have to pick the lesser of evils in some cases.

~*~ Shower curtain - While I couldn't find one made from natural materials I did find one made from 100% post-consumer recycled plastic. That's good enough for me.

~*~ Washing Machine - While it's not front load (to reduce water consumption) it was used and is still in great condition. I recently learned that for most electronics 80% their energy consumption is a result of their manufacturing and that doesn't account for all the water used and waste produced during production. Used is best!

~*~ Clothes drying - I did get a dryer but I also have a metal drying rack (it does have some plastic and I did purchase it new) that I use to dry the majority of my clothes and towels. This reduces energy use and the wear on my clothes. Win-win!

~*~ Glass storage - I'm reusing glass jars I'm collecting from food purchases. So far I have a lemonade jug (which will be great for purchasing apple cidar vinegar in bulk), a spagetti jar, salsa jar, and curry jar (these all have wide tops like mason jars so they'll be great for storing all sorts of stuff like dried goods and foods to freeze or refridgerate). I will also be looking for used mason jars to add to my collection.

~*~ No plastic for eating or drinking. We have nothing but class cups, ceramic plates and bowls and metal silverware (which has been in my family since at least the 70s).

~*~ No plastic for cooking. I have all stainless steel measuring spoons and cups, all bamboo stiring spoons and spatulas, and glass mixing bowls.

~*~ Clothes Hangers. I purchased some wood and metal hangers and we have a bunch of old wire hangers. I do have a few plastic clip hangers for hanging skirts but they came with clothes I purchased back in high school.

~*~ Composting & Recycling - I have already started a compost bin (in a cardboard box for now until I can get my hands on a used whiskey or pickle barrel for cheap) and we've already started collecting recycling though we don't really have a designated place to put it yet. I even found compost starter that came in a cardboard box without a plastic bag inside. Wonderful!

~*~ Personal care products - I'm still using up a lot of lotions, soaps, shampoo, and conditioner in plastic containers. I just ran out of body wash and will be re-using the plastic bottle with a pump top for dispensing vinegar to clean. I purchased a bar of natural almond soap that didn't come in any packaging. It smells heavenly and the almond is hydrating to my skin. I have a whole host of recipes ready for when I run out of shampoo, conditioner, toothpaste, deoderant, sun screen, and lotions. Another win-win as I won't be purchasing plastic or chemical filled products!

~*~ Toilet paper - I found 100% recycled toilet paper sold in paper wrapped rolls. I wish I could buy more than 1 roll wrapped together but this will do for now.

~*~ Food - I'm putting this in the win column even though there's lots of work to do. I've learned that buying processed convenience food is going to be nearly impossible. Most of it comes in lots of plastic packaging and it's bad for you anyway. So I'm preparing more homemade meals. I probably won't ever be able to remove plastic from my food purchsing but I have already started to greatly reduce it by making my own meals.
* Dry goods purchased in bulk (pasta, rice, nuts, seeds, flour, sugar)
* Fresh fruits and vegetables purchased without packaging (twist ties, rubber bands and stickers continue to be a challenge)
* Looking for glass or cardboard packaging when packaging is necessary. Avoiding plastic "windows" in cardboard boxes and plastic tops to glass bottles can be tricky.
* Make your own frozen fruit - I buy it fresh and cut it up and freeze it myself. No plastic required! (Unless it has a stupid sticker on it)

Not a bad start if I do say so myself. I was even able to convince my boyfriend, (who I am not forcing to participate but who is already doing his best out of guilt), not to purchase soda because he usually gets it in a plastic bottle. He opted for chocolate milk from a local diary that comes in glass. There have been some challenges though. Let's take a look:

~*~ Vaccuum - I needed a small one for the stairs and small spaces in our apartment. I couldn't find one that would work used so I purchased new. It's made of palastic and came in some plastic packaging. They did use molded paper (which is almost always recycled just because that's easier) instead of styrofoam to keep everything in place.

~*~ Toaster Oven - I don't have, nor want, a microwave but a toaster oven is a nice way to use less energy and heat when baking smaller things. The only used one I found was terribly stained and dirty so I bought new. This came with lots of plastic and styrofoam packaging.

~*~ Meat - I currently only eat chicken and fish but it seems nearly impossible to buy meat without buying plastic too. I will probably be giving it up all together as most fishing is horrible for the planet. I might try to look for a local seller of properly raised chicken and get it without plastic. Giving up meat may take some time though, I'll do my best for now.

~*~ Cheese - It is probably impossible to buy cheese without plastic unless you buy it right from the maker. I won't be able to give up cheese any time soon so I'll do my best to pick cheese with less plastic for now.

~*~ Bulk foods - I have yet to figure out a no waste way to take them home. I might have to find some metal tins or glass containers to bring with me and have the store weigh them empty. So far I have been using paper bags with the intention to reuse but they get small holes easily and leak. My boyfriend did buy bread in a bag for his sandwiches so I will probably use that bag when he's done with it.

~*~ Aluminum & Non-stick - Most of my pots and pans are aluminum or non-stick. Both of these can leach into food and aluminum has been linked with Alzheimer's disease. I will be replacing them with stainless steel and/or cast iron. I will be hunting for used but may have to get new. ***TIP*** Use a magnet to determine if your pans are stainless steel or not. Magnets stick to steel and not to aluminum.

~*~ Shower head - We need to replace the existing one and I have never seen one that doesn't have at least some plastic.

So there are a few hurdles ahead and I'm sure I'll discover more along the way but so far it really hasn't been a difficult transition. I know that I have to be forgiving of myself and not try to guilt trip my boyfriend when he purchases something with plastic or unneccessary packaging. I know that ultimately greening up my life will improve my health and the health of the planet. Hopefully my green choices will influence others to make the same choices and we can really make an impact together!

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