Sustainable Dishwashing Part II: Reduce, ReUse, Recycle Plastics


November 26th, 2011

Nothing gets my anxiety level higher than petro-plastic bags & wraps. Plastic takes hunreds of years to decompose while  it does nothing but ensconce a loaf of bread or piece of meat that will be digested in days. Even organic foods comes wrapped in it – ouch. I am trying to let go of that which I cannot yet change so I breathe deeply and re-use and recycle.

Mine is a real and not ideal household. Cooking is not my forte and I buy a fair amount of frozen food rather than let paper wrapped foods go bad; using petro oil bad, killing animals needlessly, worse. Not all family members are as committed to zero waste as I am, so I attempt to keep damages to a minimum, thusly.

If you have identifiable containers or spaces for each, the process becomes easy for you and family members.

Flexible plastics triage (quatrage?).

  • A) GROCERY/DRUGSTORE/TAKEOUT bags, BREAD & other hole-less bags of suitable size. Place with dog supplies for dog poop on walk or with cleaning supplies to line trash cans.  IKEA sells a handy durable dispenser  to attach inside a cabinet door for.
  • B) XL/UNUSUAL shaped bags: Keep a few for future storing/protecting/carrying needs. I keep these with large handled paper bags.
  • C) ZIP-LOC style bags (purchased or that foods come in): Put in sink for washing. See below for more details
  • D) RECYCLE @ GROCERY: Every other flexible PETRO-plastic. More details below.
  • E) Is the plastic CRUNCHY & CRINKLY? Chances are good that it is actually a bio-plastic i.e. made of cellophane, corn, etc. See below.

Drying set up for recently washed zipper-style bags

CATEGORY C: Zippered plastic bags. I pay more for the heavy duty kind with good zippers that work more than once; I probably get at least 10 uses out of each bag. Wash with soapy water, cold rinse (germs thrive in warm but not cold water; boiling temps that would kill germs will melt the bags). I have a couple sets of wooden upright plate racks that I keep just for bag drying as well upending them on my knife block when I run out of space. As I wash them I check for leaks and mark leaky bags with an X in permanent marker so I don’t reuse for airtight situations. I put them back in the boxes they came from.  I feel comfortable re-using mine for food; others may not. I use the newer looking ones for food, the sadder ones for myriad uses. It feels like a lottery winning when I take in an XL zipper bag from frozen chicken pieces. Great for storing camping supplies or other large items in dirty places such as garages or attics. Keeps dust out of craft supplies.

CATEGORY D I store in the largest plastic bag in the collection. I can recycle at Safeway, Whole Foods and many other markets. They use these to manufacture composite porch wood, bender board, picnic tables and many other products. Included in the category are:

  • Rigid frozen food bags (quick-rinse for stuck food)
  • Produce bags,
  • Air filled bags used as packing material (kids love poking holes to deflate these),
  • Category C bags past their prime,
  • Dry cleaning bags,
  • Shrink wrap from warehouse store purchases
  • Almost any kind of soft flexible plastic that comes my way

CATEGORY E: CRUNCH OR CRINKLY. I haven’t been able to find a definitive way to distinguish petro- from bio- plastic, so this is the best I can do if there is no marking on the plastic. These are eventually biodegradeable but probably aren’t appropriate for your compost heap. If you have compostable waste collection with your trash, put it in that container. If not, ask your city government or waste management company to add compostable separation as part of the next contract period. Otherwise, it goes in the regular trash for now 🙁

 

Sustainable Dishwashing: No More Plastic Scrubbers


October 31st, 2011

Have you scrubbed a pot using one of those green scratch pads lately? Most of us have. Did you know that they are made of oil-based plastic that breaks down as you scrub and those small pieces go down your drain, into the municipal water treatment, are filtered out and end up eventually in the Bay and ociean? Along with microscopic broken bits of plastic bags and bottlecaps they become part of fish and crustacean diets. Plastic has now become a defacto part of seafood flesh – yum, yum.

Solution? Loofah & agave scrubbers. Loofah (my sister grew some in LA one year) & agave are plants. Loofah can be purchased as a yarn if you have time to knit or crochet your own scrubber. As for me, 3M recently introduced scrubbers from agave (found some at Target) but there are probably others (let me know in comments).The sponge part of the old double-sided scrubbers has been natural sponge but with chemical dyes (bye-bye purple, orange, blue). The new sponges are made of recycled paper and natural fibers and have no chemical dyes.

Loofah, natural sponge, paper, yarn are components of these manufactured and handmade scrubbers.

I’m less enthusiast about the 3M soap loaded scrubbers. Soap is phosphorus free and scrubbers are from recycled plastic, but, again, plastic bits into the water stream. Their wipes are from bamboo, rayon (pulpy part of cotton plant), cotton & corn, presumably new material since recycled isn’t mentioned but all are compostable. Read labels & go online for details.

Remember, you don’t need to see scads of bubbles for a dish detergent to do its job. Though it seems counterintuitive, rinsing with cold water is best because bacteria thrive in warm (i.e. temperatures that our hands can handle) water but not cold.

Absorb grease and other food stuck to plate with old napkins, paper towels and put in garbage. Keep a strainer in the sinkhole. The more grease and food particles that go through your municipal water plant, the more energy they must use to clean your water.

Shells, Sand & Gardens


September 13th, 2011
NY Museum of Nat'l Science

Crustacean Exhibit @ NY Museum of Nat’l Science

Grains of sand are as numerous as the stars in the firmament so it would would be a fruitless task to assess the source from which each grain was ground over the eons.  Their origins could be from  stone, bone, shell or sea detritus worn down by time.

We do know that sand is wonderful for many gardens as both a soil amendment and landscaping aid or element.

Being an inveterate recycler and composter, I was considering the possibilities for shells of the beer-steamed mussels we had just finished enjoying. I had considered offering them on Freecycle to a crafter that might have a creative idea but decided to try to take responsibility for our trash on my own property.

Always starved for inexpensive path and working area materials I’ve added them to the chunky stones and brick where I keep my planting supplies. As they get crunched to pieces, dust flys in and fall leaves crumble between the stones, new dirt is forming. Next year I can pick up the stones and gather that soil from the weed barrier to add to my compost.

Another form of sand is in those little silica packets that come in many electronics. While still sand, we have no idea where they come from or what they have been exposed to. I toss these in my stone pathway but Laura of “Make Life Lovely” has many other great ideas, so check them out!

Recyling Your Media Waste & Techno Trash


May 11th, 2011

Is part of your 2010 New Year resolution to go through and dispose of all those old videotapes, floppy disks, zip Disks, DVDs, CDs and jewel cases that you never want to see again? You may need to put out a few dollars for postage or services but there are some choices for doing this responsibly:

Disabled employees of the nonprofit Alternative Community Training (ACT) in Columbus MO grind up various smaller plastic items such as CDs, VHS tapes and jewel cases for resale to manufacturers who use recycled plastic. You can mail your trash using media mail rates ($6.95 for the first 20 lbs and 30 cents for each pound over that).

GreenDisk uses a network of non-profit organizations to process techno trash. They refurbish what we can and recycle the rest. Inkjet cartridges get remanufactured and, when possible, cell phones and some computers get refurbished. Material that has no further operating life is broken down to its smallest components (metals, plastics, etc.) and used in the manufacturing of new products. All of the material that GreenDisk collects is reused or recycled. No hazardous materials or obsolete components go overseas to be processed or disposed of. The cost here is the same as above.

If you live in the San Francisco Bay area you may be able to take it directly to a local Green Citizen center. They locate themselves near business centers to encourage businesses which produce so much of the techno trash. When my husband’s business moved in San Francisco last week, we just wheeled a couple monitors on carts a few blocks to the Howard St center.

If you’re active at your church or school, consider a drive to collect and return this trash. (Solicit some donations to cover mailing boxes and postage at the same time).

Over the past few years I’ve accumulated a stash of solar garden lights but slowly they seem to be dying. I was complaining (mostly to myself) that 1) they don’t make things the way they used to or 2) I might be saving energy with solar lights but I’m spending it as I throw out these otherwise good fixtures and creating waste, to boot.

I slowed down enough to pull a couple  of these apart and discovered that they use Ni-Cad  or Ni-MH Rechargeable batteries that I could recharge or replace. It also was a good time to clean out the cobwebs from the light housing & spiff them up a bit. Here’s a good tutorial

If the plastic panel has disintegrated or the circuit is no longer working, time to toss or re-use the parts (unless you have electronics skills). I searched for pre-made LED solar circuits but they don’t seem to exist. BTW, don’t forget to keep the rechargeable batteries to recharge for other uses!

Is Your Printer/Copy Paper Recycled?


November 15th, 2010

October 2008.

Is your copy/printer paper recycled? Probably not. If you separate and put out your paper for collection, you might presume that all the paper you buy for copying is recycled – you would be wrong. About 90% of the copy paper available for purchase and used in printing is virgin paper from freshly cut trees. The magazine trade is far worse, only 5% of magazine paper is of recycled content.

As of Sept 2008 the only 100% recycled copy paper I could find at the big box office supply stores was Staples and had to pay about a 50% premium. 30% recycled is readily available at most stores at about the same cost or just slightly more than virgin paper. Why?

Although the technology and paper is there for recycled , high quality, glossy magazine paper the will is not there. Those publications that ARE using recycled paper are predominantly those with a scientific, nature, health or consumer vantage such as Audubon, Consumer Reports, Scientific American (Reycled Magazine List) but Oprah has taken the big step as the first mainstream magazine. You can encourage this process by writing or e-mailing to the publishers of the magazines to which you subscribe.

By stopping the junk mail that arrives at your home, advertiser will be printing less. OptOutPrescreen can partially cut the flow of credit card and insurance offers. StopJunkMail.org will give you other ideas. Some folks don’t mind paying Green Dimes $15 to manage new junk mail offers as they arrive at your home; the $15 includes 10 trees planted in your behalf.

Conservatree on the news

How Can I ReCycle This? has hints on how to give a 2nd life to almost anything.

To Mother Earth, With Love on St. Valentine’s Day


February 10th, 2009

St. Valentine was a priest in Rome in the 1rst Century CE. “He was caught marrying Christian couples and aiding any Christians who were being persecuted under Emperor Claudius and subsequently imprisoned, then beaten, stoned and beheaded for trying to convert Claudius, himself. One legend says, while awaiting his execution, Valentinus restored the sight of his jailer’s blind daughter. Another legend says, on the eve of his death, he penned a farewell note to the jailer’s daughter, signing it, “From your Valentine.”

Popular customs “associated with Saint Valentine’s Day had their origin in a conventional belief generally received in England and France during the Middle Ages, that on 14 February, i.e. half way through the second month of the year, the birds began to pair. the day was looked upon as specially consecrated to lovers and as a proper occasion for writing love letters and sending lovers’ tokens.”

Forest Ethics suggests that Valentine’s Day is the perfect opportunity to get creative. In the spirit of the holiday, send your loved ones a handmade card out of the very junk mail clogging your mail box.

Making your own valentine is easy. Check out our facts about junk mail page for quick facts to share with your friends, and start cutting up those glossy mailers sitting in your recycle bin. With a pair of scissors and a little glue, you’ll have a valentine in no time.

And don’t forget to tell your valentine to sign the petition at http://www.donotmail.org!

If you have the time, they’d like you send them a picture of your valentine on Facebook, Flickr, or just attach it in an email. (If you send an email, please make sure it’s under 8 mb.)

Towards Sustainable Auto Transportation


January 24th, 2009

Amory Lovins in the 8/26/2007 issue of Newsweek spoke about steps the government can take to slow oil addiction.

He also made is short, sweet and to the point on how the average consumer can promote energy efficiency in personal auto transportation:

1) Get the most energy efficient vehicle (both in terms of energy used to manufacture the car and energy it uses). Drive the vehicle properly to maximize efficiency.

2) Be thoughtful about whether the trip is necessary and how many people are in the car

3) Try to live nearer to where you work, shop, attend school and recreate.

4) Push for fairer competition between all ways to get around. Write or call your legislators at all levels, attend local meetings.

Resolve to be less “Consumed” in 2009


December 11th, 2008
The holidays bring out the consumer in us even as we try to scale back. In addition to the waste we personally produce, there is a tremendous taxation of our earth in the farming, mining, manufacturing, transportation and sale of most every item we purchase and use.           

Despite my rantings about sustainability, I’ve discovered I have a long, long way to go even though I’ve made much progress. One of the best websites to find a good overall look at your personal & family sustainability footprint is Consumer Consequences . After you input your information you have the ability to compare yourself with others in different categories: house, energy, transportation, food, etc. It helped me identify which areas I should make more efforts in the coming year.

I’ve been reading online the NPR special report “Consumed” that was broadcast November 2007 and highly recommend checking it out:

Its goal is to answer the question, “Is the consumer economy sustainable?” in a serious way. They tackle the question in a comprehensive manner, with a lot of breadth but, if you don’t want to be overwhelmed, just choose one or two that most interest you.

A partial list of the featured topics: ecological footprint, landfills and the waste disposal sector, consumer debt, air pollution, freegans, marketing, junk mail, energy independence, the effect of consumer culture on mental and emotional well-being, carbon tax, food miles, fashion obsolescence, the green economy, e-waste, clean tech, globalization, Bhutan’s happiness index.

Interesting things to ponder as we consider resolutions for 2009.


The Compact: Adventures in Simple Living


July 18th, 2008

Several months ago I discovered and, sort of, joined the Compact. A group of environmentally concerned friends in San Francisco made a compact not to purchase any new, non-essential items for a year i.e. a compact lifestyle. They did give themselves a little leeway though to buy underwear, socks, and safety items new. They started a Yahoo! group to refine the rules, record their journeys, give each other tips and support each other.

Joining is not rigid -you are more making a compact with yourself – and is more about reconsidering you personal relationship with “stuff”.I’m now more likely to repair something or borrow something. I usually buy tops secondhand but have a difficult time finding pants that fit so I go straight to the stores I depend on for fit.

Soon so many others discovered the Compact that the original group was helping the world and had little time to help each other. To make it more personal again, geographical Yahoo!group offshoots have started because many shopping sources and ideas for free entertainment tend to be local.

Even teens can be tempted away from the mall and make it their own cause as Marta Marano in Toronto has.

Some other links:

Some local groups: San Francisco/Bay Area
Seattle
Los Angeles
Chicago
New York City

GOOD

Not All Buy into Black Friday

What Would Jesus Buy? asks us to reconsider what Christmas is all about.