2011-12-31

Making laundry detergent

I recently did a post on making my dishwasher detergent. Now we've run out of laundry detergent so it's time to make some more. It's got even fewer ingredients! The only catch is you've got to grate a bar of soap, which isn't nearly as bad as it sounds.

Basically it's the same for laundry as for dishes, only leave out the salt/citric acid and add in a grated bar of soap.

Here's what it takes:
  • 300 g washing soda
  • 150 g borax
  • 1 finely grated bar of soap
    Thin and stringy like "fancy" shredded cheese is fine, doesn't have to be all powdery. We use Zum soap, usually frankincense and myrrh. The grating process acts as a whole house air freshener. And we get it from the 91st and Metcalf Whole Foods because we can get it without any packaging there by cutting off whatever size bar we want. We end up getting about the size they normally sell as a bar anyway, which is about 85 g.
Now just mix it all together and keep it in a sealed container. This one seems a little harder to keep mixed up because the soap is grated not powdery, so it doesn't get uniformly distributed really. The trick when you're measuring to do a load is to stir it around some and try to make sure it looks like you've got "enough" soap shreds in your spoon. Our frankincense and myrrh soap makes that pretty easy, because the powder components are both white but the soap is brown.

I currently do all my laundry in cold water, both because it saves on heating the water and because it allows me to be indiscriminate when sorting clothes. I've gotten into the habit of separating into three categories, generally only one load of each: shirts, pants (dress/jeans/skirts), and everything else.

All you need is one tablespoon per load*, dropped in the washer before you begin filling. And like any powdered detergent, wait until it's filled up some before you start tossing in your clothes.

One important note. The place I learned this recipe (sorry for no ref) seemed to indicate that this detergent is perfectly safe for use in HE washing machines. The theory is that HE washers have problems if your soap gets too sudsy. And this, I believe, doesn't gets sudsy at all. That said, don't come whining to me if you do it in an HE washer and you break it. I guess all I'm saying is that if I had a washer labelled as HE, I'd totally try it. It'd be worth a shot; we're at least halfway considering whether we could try doing laundry without a machine. No promises there though.

*I realize now that here and with the dishwasher detergent, I used tablespoons when I had been very careful about using metric measures in my weights. So if you care, it's just shy of 15 mL.


Remember that couple we met at Whole Foods?

Remember how we said we had met another zero-waste couple at Whole Foods the other day? Their article was posted on the Star's website today. My friend/coworker Brian actually emailed me a link to it, because it made him think of us.

2011-12-30

New dining room light plus one more use of CFLs

OK most of the lights in our apartment are CFL already anyway, but there are a couple stubborn locations we have had. The big one was the dining room. There was this old crappy gold chandelier thing that used little tiny bulbs. I know they make CFLs with that size base, but they're more expensive and we knew that after we re-signed our lease we would be getting a new fixture anyway.

So, our new lease began in November and we got tired of waiting. Last night I submitted installing our new light as a friendly service request and this morning they came by to put it up!

It's pretty classy, and now no longer matches the gold on the living room fan. But, it also uses standard size bulbs.


Here's the best part. I found CFLs that came in all-cardboard packaging, almost like how incandescents have been packaged my entire life!


Now the remaining incandescents are in the hallway (CFL wouldn't fit in the globe), in the bathroom (weird spherical lights above the mirror) and in the bedroom fan (not turned on a ton but small bases like the dining room was before).

2011-12-29

Zero Waste Christmas

Here is how we did some things this Christmas and what we hope to work on in the future:

Christmas Dinner(s) Food Ingredients:
Items found in bulk/loose with zero waste
-Wheat flour
-Oat
-Almonds
-Sugar
-Salt
-Buttermilk: left from when I made butter 
-Cheesy loaf from Panera: put directly into a bag 
-Chocolate chips
-Yukon Gold potatoes in mesh bag
-Sweet potatoes in mesh bag
-Garlic in mesh bag
-Carrots in mesh bag
-Maple syrup 
-Peanut butter
-Baking soda: already had, can get in bulk in the future
-Cinnamon: already had, can get in bulk in the future
-Nutmeg: already had, can get in bulk in the future

Items in bulk/loose with minimal waste and/or recycled items
- Apples put in mesh bag: waste being the stickers they put on produce
-Homemade butter: waste being the plastic lids from the cream
-Lemon put in mesh bag: waste being the sticker they put on produce
-Eggs in carton: waste being the egg shells and recycled being the carton, plan to start composting shells
-Vanilla: already had, can make in the future from bulk vanilla beans and vodka with glass that can be recycled. Will currently have plenty as Paula made us some homemade :)
-Blueberries: waste being a plastic container that seems to be the only option - plan to recycle
-Whole milk in glass: waste being plastic lid
-1% milk in glass: waste being plastic lid
-Yeast: recycled glass jar
-Tea: Tea leaves in bulk- only waste is the coffee filter used to make, in the future we plan to avoid this by not using the tea maker and doing it the old fashion way by using our teapot or if we do use the tea maker we could start composting filters.

Seemingly unavoidable waste and ideas for the future
-Black Cherry Kool-Aid: waste being the paper packet. I usually only make this for holidays since it's a family favorite and a sort of treat for me, so not sure if I will give it up - but I do not do it very often.
- Brown sugar: waste being the plastic bag. Ideas anyone? There are no bulk options here.
-Ham: waste plastic wrap. Admittedly I didn't try hard enough on this one. I stuck with the ham I've purchased in the past that I enjoy and that is simple. I think I will force myself to see if there is a way to get ham directly from the meat counter, put into a larger Pyrex or something for the future.
-Gluten free Chex: waste plastic inside, recycled the cardboard. No bulk options here. It seems the only option is to just not make puppy chow as it did seem to have a lot of waste with plastic from cereal, and plastic from powdered sugar. Idk.
-Powdered sugar-waste being the plastic bag. Ideas anyone?
-Baking powder: already had - will have to investigate zero waste options for the future, not sure if there is a bulk option.
-Black pepper: already had-can get in bulk but not completely waste free bulk, will look to see if 119th has it in bulk waste free. 
-Cocoa: already had - will have to investigate zero waste options for the future.

Gifts
-Currently still trying to use up some of the wrapping paper we already have and the gift bags we have reused already several times and just are basically trying to give away lol. I promise to never buy another gift bag or any wrapping paper again though, so now it's just a matter of using up what we currently have.

-Did make some homemade gifts this year, along with gifts that had minimal packaging, gifts of donation,  gifts cards, and items that encourage eco-friendliness, like a reusable mug and bulk bags.

Hope everyone had a lovely Christmas!

2011-12-26

Bar Soap

We've made the switch to bar soap. Mrs. Meyer's smelled nice, but since we can have a zero waste alternative, it just made better sense. We've already mentioned that we can get Zum soap in bulk. We do use this, but since it's more pricey, we just use it for laundry and not for hand and body use. For hand and body we have found that you can get these really great bars at 3 for $5 at Whole Foods. The brand is One With Nature. They have several different scents to chose from. In fact, for Christmas they had Cranberry Fig, Peppermint, and Sugar Cookie. Fun! Other ones I've enjoyed would be Rose Petal and Shea Butter.

We keep a bar at each sink: the kitchen and the bathroom.  Also, now that I've used up the last of my body wash, I have been using bar soap and it actually has been just fine. One With Nature soaps last a very long time and the shea butter one I have now has been wonderful in the shower and I haven't noticed it being as drying or film like as you'd think bar soap might be. Once Rob finishes up his current body wash, he will be making the switch as well. With this switch, we no longer have a need for plastic mesh body puffs either.
Making the switch. No more bottled liquid soap!
No more body wash!

2011-12-24

No more paper towels

We finally ran out of paper towels. We've gone about a week so far without them and really I've barely noticed. I used a micro fiber cloth to clean the bathroom mirror, that might have been the only time I actively thought about my previous use of paper towels. Number 24 on the 1001 list: done.

Also, since we don't really get plastic sacks much anymore (and since we wanted to stop using them for this purpose anyway) Rob switched to paper lunch bags for cat waste. I already had these white ones around the house so I figured we'd use them up. I like Rob's idea here of reusing paper bags from places like Chick-Fil-A and such.

Since Rob and I may or may not get on here to post again before Sunday, I just want to wish everyone a merry Christmas! I will post about zero waste Christmas things soon. Bye!

2011-12-21

Other Zero Wasters

Last time we went grocery shopping, we went to the 91st Whole Foods because we needed a few ingredients that we knew the 119th one might not have. Anyway, while there, we came upon another zero waste couple! I felt this was blog worthy because it is the very first time we have seen anyone else using jars, produce bags, etc. while we've been out shopping. He asked about our jars (I say he because sadly, we didn't get to the point of exchanging names) and he asked if we were trying to do zero waste too and we said yes. It was just neat to met someone who even knew about it let alone did it. They are going to be featured in the Kansas City Star apparently on January 1st, talking about their zero waste lifestyle, so be sure to look for the article! We don't get the paper, but plan to borrow it from Rob's parents for this. We gave them our blog link and went our separate ways. Apparently they are moving soon, so it was just a chance meeting. Anyway, fun.

In other news: Did you know that your can recycle your old, busted up vacuum at Best Buy? Awesome isn't it? Well, not awesome that Rob and I are currently without a vacuum, but awesome that we were able to find a way to dispose of our broken one it in a green-friendly way. Thanks Best Buy!

2011-12-18

I wouldn't exactly call it composting

I wouldn't go so far as to call this composting, but I decided last night that I'd start collecting a few things in a Gladware-esque container. I'm thinking this'll mostly be for used tea leaves and garlic paper, with the intention that I'll just toss it all out in the yard somewhere outside the apartment. I do the same thing with salad greens we don't get to in time. It's all leaves, right? Just like the trees out there shed their leaves every year, I'm just adding a few more every month or so.

So here's what it looks like after making one quart of tea last night and three quarts tonight. And the paper from one clove of garlic that I had thrown into my veggie soup this evening.


I poked some holes in the lid, so the tea leaves won't stay soggy forever. I hope.

2011-12-15

Checking in on our progress

Some little updates:

Bread:
I think we mentioned earlier that we would be making a lot of our own bread. Lately, however, we have just been getting our bread for sandwiches from the Whole Foods bakery.  They can put the bread directly into a cloth sack this way and it's zero waste while being convenient.

Jars:
I'd say we have about 15 or so jars right now. In the beginning we almost worried about whether or not we would really be using that many. In the end I think we have found that it has been the perfect amount and that we end up always using them, sometimes even wishing we had one or two more. They have worked great.

Thanksgiving:
Yes, it's December now, but I wanted to get on here and mention that this Thanksgiving my sister Lacey attempted a zero waste meal. How cool! She did a pretty decent job. She even made her own marshmallows (something I will need to try). Maybe she will be so kind as to go into more detail via a comment here. But, I just wanted to thank her for her eco-friendly efforts around the holidays. I will plan to attempt a zero waste Christmas this year. We shouldn't have too many problems with that, but I did get a roasted chicken in plastic last year from Target.  Will have to decide what to do there instead. Will have to look into ham options as well.

Recycling:
We have started to keep track of how often we have to take out the trash and recycling. I believe we have made quite a noticeable difference already! The recycling is what surprised me the most. It has gone way down (since we get more in jars and use less plastic, we end up with less to recycle). It will only get better now that we intend to give up Kleenex for handkerchief and paper towels for cloth, etc. Last time we took the recycling was Nov. 27th and we are still nowhere near ready to take it again. My hope is that this will mean only a once a month trip.

Trash:
We use to have three trash cans: a tiny one in the bathroom, a medium one in the bedroom, and a larger one in the kitchen. We have since emptied the large one and put it into storage. We moved the medium trash can from the bedroom into the kitchen. Now we do not use one in the bedroom and we have kept the bathroom one where it is. When it's time to take the trash, we've always taken the two smaller ones and dumped them into the larger one and then took the large one out. We were taking out the large one probably about once a week.  Now, with the same system (just two trash cans though) we are almost in need to taking out, and it's been a week and four days! Now, not only does this mean we get four to five extra days before having to take the trash out, it means we are extending the time between take outs WHILE having our trash can basically cut in half.  So, long confusing story short: When we use to take a large bag of trash out once a week, we now take a medium bag out once every two weeks (well almost two weeks). I know with a little work we can get those extra 3 days :) Exciting!

101 in 1001 list:
Now, to wrap up this post, I wanted to point out that I have jumped on the 101 in 1001 bandwagon. Since my list has a lot of zero waste/eco-friendly goals on it, I felt this was an okay place to keep it. You can link to it here: http://sharprs.blogspot.com/p/101-in-1001-list.html
It is up on the static page list at the top of the blog. I will update it as I go along. I'm sure it will also serve as a source of inspiration for future posts as I accomplish some of them.

Thanks for reading.

2011-12-13

Making dishwasher detergent

This evening I had to make some more dishwasher detergent. Last time I made some I had to make what I've come to consider a half-batch because I was running low on citric acid.

This time I decided to weigh my ingredients as I went. I'm thinking it'll be easier in the future to make it by weight so I'm not standing there trying to pour occasionally-clumpy powders into measuring cups. By the way, I did my measurements in grams. I feel like my scale is giving me a more accurate idea of what I'm putting in the bowl when I do it in grams. Might have something to do with the fact that the scale is accurate to the tenth of an ounce on imperial, but to the gram on metric. One gram is a third of a tenth of an ounce. I'm not crazy!

Here's how the measurements came out:
  • 300g washing sodaThat's sodium carbonate (Na2CO3), not sodium bicarbonate. Not edible, not a natural leavening agent, though it is apparently sometimes used instead of lye for making pretzels for the same basic reason it might be used to counter the pH effects of pool chlorine.
  • 150 g borax
    Sodium tetraborate (Na2B4O7·10H2O) has a bunch of uses for cleaning and it kind of seems like most of them are about the same purposes as the washing soda. I'm sure there's some explanation why using both seems to be better than just one. I use both in the laundry detergent too.
  • 150 g kosher salt
    Plain old sodium chloride (NaCl). My challenge may actually be to find a bulk source of kosher salt. The sea salt in the bulk bins at Whole Foods isn't quite as coarse as I'd like it to be. Maybe it doesn't matter ultimately since the dishwasher just dumps a bunch of water on it anyway. When I found the recipe, it argued that the coarseness of the kosher salt (over table salt, I guess) was beneficial for scrubbing the dishes. Maybe I'll have to give it a shot next time with the sea salt I can easily get.
  • 115 g citric acid
    Citric acid (C6H8O7) seems to be used a lot as a preservative in bottled drinks and I recently learned it prevents browning in applesauce in pretty much the same way lemon juice does with apple slices, presumably this has something to do with the large amount of citric acid in citrus fruits, hence citric. It gives a sort of tangy flavor to whatever you put it in (again with the citrus thing). This is why I do not care for bottled iced teas. It's also a natural antacid and is half of what's in Alka-Seltzer. Citric acid's role here is to help prevent the film you might otherwise get on your glassware. I must admit I was a little sad the weight on this one was so inconvenient. It ruins the possibility of a nice ratio of ingredients by weight like there is when you do it by volume.
Just mix all that together thoroughly. The citric acid may make the rest of it want to clump together. I like to break up the clumps and stir it up with a serving spoon, but if you've got clumps, it's not a big deal; it's all going in the same place anyway.

I use one tablespoon of the detergent loose in the machine for the pre-wash and one more tablespoon in the close-able container thing for the main wash. I found that if I just did one or the other, it didn't do quite as good a job.

Now if I could, I would also put some white vinegar in the rinse aid thing in the dishwasher. But alas, our rinse aid thing doesn't work. There's probably still some vinegar in there from the first couple months we lived here. The vinegar ostensibly serves the same sort of purpose as the citric acid, to sort of wash away any filmy stuff left after the rinsing, and any hard water deposits. I have this strong feeling it'd totally work. Vinegar does wonders on the heating element of our humidifier.

We'll get to laundry soap pretty soon. There's only a couple loads left, I think.

2011-12-10

Enter the wife, your new co-contributor!


Hello!  Jess here.  Rob and I are partners in our zero waste/eco-friendly goals, so why not see posts from each of us?  Mostly Rob allowed this because I would sometimes be tempted to ask, “When are you making a new blog about this or that?” and this way if I want a post about something I can just do it.  I’m proud of Rob for starting this blog, I guess I’m just getting in on the fun.  Thanks Rob, and I hope you readers (or reader?  Do we have any readers?) will not mind.  We also tweaked a few things on the blog itself, so feel free to check it out.
For my post I wanted to show you our glass water bottles.  We simply love them.



We found these at Whole Foods.  This is my white one.  Not pictured, Rob's larger red one.  And yes Toby Keith, I do prefer drinking from glass…you can keep your red Solo cup.

2011-12-07

TP

Did you know Amazon will let you schedule recurring orders?

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B000C7OHFK/ref=oh_o00_s00_i00_details

Look! Nearly zero waste TP!

You know, after the cutting down of the trees and gas spent delivering it all over the country.

But still, we don't have to throw any of it away. It comes individually wrapped in paper instead of plastic and it's made from recycled paper.

2011-11-10

Two quick things

First, we used our last paper napkin. Now it'll just be these:


Also, we had a virtually zero waste grocery trip last week! All except the lids, of course. And we even got the deli man to put our turkey slices right in the jar.

2011-10-31

Jars at the deli counter are the current challenge

We went out for groceries last night. Had to get some things at Target before Whole Foods this time.

Here's what we'll end up throwing away from this trip, Target first.

  • Cat food bag and bags from kitty treats
    We'd like to find a way to get edibles for the cats that are worthy of being called "treat" but don't involve paper, foiled, or plastic pouches, bags, or bottles. Also, though the Merc in Lawrence did have dry cat food in a bulk bin, we're at least conscious of what we're feeding our kitties and don't want to give them something we don't know the ingredients of.
  • Sprayer lid from the pet stain remover bottle.
    I'm a little less optimistic about this but we would also like to find some sort of homemade pet stain remover. Until then, we'll be using this. I did just realize that the refill bottle, which is exactly twice the amount as a new spray bottle, at least doesn't have the sprayer lid. As such, I suppose it'd be the less wasteful option. Trouble is, it's also fifty cents more expensive than buying two bottles with sprayer lids.
We also got some tomato soup and enchilada sauce at Target, but we at least get to recycle tin cans, so for the moment I"m ok with that. Now on to Whole Foods.
  • Milk bottle caps.
    I don't know if I've mentioned it but I asked Shatto if there were any other options for lids for them to use. There are not, though they have looked into it.
  • Hand soap refill bag.
    The bag brags about being made from recycled plastic, but the trouble is we can't recycle this bag. It gives the lame idea to cut off the top of the bag and use it as a vase for some flowers, but, like I said, that's a bit lame.
  • Saran wrap from a couple blocks of cheddar.
    We're not sure what to do about cheese from the deli. There's the theoretical possibility of putting it directly into our jars, but ultimately there doesn't seem to be much cheese at Whole Foods that isn't wrapped in plastic at some point, so I'm not sure the result wouldn't just be they'd uunwrap it and drop it in our jars.
  • The lid and protective plastic wrapper around the lid of a bottle of Annie's Caesar dressing.
    Someone help me convince my wife that my homemade Caesar dressing is the way to go. That's one homemade item that predated any of this no-waste stuff.
We got a bunch of other stuff at Whole Foods, but the rest is at the worst recyclable.

Yet again we're not sure what to do about paper used by the butcher. There were two sheets of waxed paper wasted this time, like last time. The first to weigh our beef on and the second because the guy grabbed a new sheet before I managed to tell him we could very easily just fold the sticker in half and didn't need a piece of paper to stick it to.

Why not put the beef directly in the jar? We found out from the girl at the deli counter just moments before getting the beef that their scales don't seem to be able to remove a tare weight greater than one pound. Our 1 L jars are 1.4 pounds. At the deli counter the girl was friendly and helpful and we came to a compromise of using a sheet of un-waxed paper that she said they could compost. After the relatively delightful deli experience, we moved on to the butcher counter, where the guys there didn't seem to have any sort of knowledge that the store contained un-waxed paper.

What can we do better?

Since we seem to be getting the same bread for spaghetti each time, we're going to come up with a somewhat durable place to stick one bread UPC to use on multiple trips. We'll be able to use the same board or whatever to stick our beef or ham stickers to, and just build up a layer of them. Eventually they are trash, but if we can't just give the cashier a PLU, it's the best we've got. The irony is if we could do the PLU method, the cashier can handle any tare weight we give them.

I'm also wondering if there would be the option of using a half liter jar for deli and beef. The half liter jars are right at one pound, so they'd work on the scales. I'm just not sure a pound of beef would fit in one of those. The other thought I've had is to bring something like a Silpat to weigh things on before transferring to the jar. Then we can roll up the mat to wash when we get home.

2011-10-22

Groceries don't normally involve a trip to Lawrence

Generally it is our goal to visit as few places as necessary when we make our weekly grocery trip. Our current plan of action for a Saturday involves three places:

  1. The Overland Park farmers' market in downtown OP, but only while it's open--only one more week.
  2. Whole Foods either at 91st or 119th and Metcalf.
  3. Target at 119th and Metcalf, but only if necessary.
Today was a little different. Jess's sister Lacey was going to make a trip to Lawrence for a Handmade Market thing involving some nearby Etsy artists. We decided to join her and see what the farmers' market is like in Lawrence. The Etsy thing happened to be in a restaurant in the same parking lot as Lawrence's Saturday farmers' market.

We got there just a couple minutes before noon, only to remember that their market closes at noon near the end of the season. We managed to run up and down a couple of the aisles and spend $21 before they shut down on us. We got a couple sweet potatoes for baking chips, Jess wanted some grape jelly, and we've been needing some honey for pizza dough. The great thing about the honey is that it came in a Mason jar. When it's empty we plan on just taking it to Whole Foods to refill with honey from their bulk aisle.

After the Handmade Market, we went over to The Merc, which appears to be the equivalent of Whole Foods in Lawrence. The general idea was to eat lunch in their cafeteria area and then for Jess and me to wander around and see how cool the place is. The sandwiches we had were great, and the only trash we ended up with was four sandwich toothpicks and a couple napkins. Otherwise, we got a giant glass bottle of tea and we figure we'll take that to Whole Foods and use it as our olive oil storage bottle.

The plan may have been to just look around but it turns out they too have bulk Zum soap and since we were going to start trying to use that instead of body wash, we decided to get a little bit to avoid making two Whole Foods trips when we got back home; remember, only the one at 91st has bulk Zum soap. We also found that the Merc has a better bulk section when it comes to things like herbs and spices and loose leaf tea. And they have baking soda in bulk! We couldn't get any and we've got enough to last us a little longer anyway, but that's pretty cool to find.

The biggest find at the Merc was the whole wheat elbow pasta. That's right, they've got macaroni in bulk. We had to get a pound and a half. Now we just need to figure out how to make mac and cheese without powdered cheese. Just melting cheddar in it didn't quite do the trick last time.

So it looks like the Merc has a couple things we may have to use them for in the future. Luckily they're things we won't be needing weekly, so we may be able to time our trips to coincide with Topeka trips. Maybe we can grab some baking soda on our way out next Saturday.

After Lawrence we came back home to our normal grocery business, skipping the farmers' market both because we'd done that already but also because it was 17:00 already and ours was closed too.

I won't bore you with the details of what we purchased. I was more interested, this trip, in paying attention to not only the trash we'll end up with but the trash generated at the store.

First, what will we throw away? Lids from milk bottles and plastic packages from Charmin wet wipes. And the lid from the salsa and spaghetti sauce. I also couldn't resist a coffee sample at Whole Foods, and a cheese sample so there was a little un-waxed paper cup and a toothpick.

It's the things that were thrown away because of us that bothered me most today.
  • A printed label for the loaves of bread we got. We ignored the sign that said we should print one per loaf and just told the cashier there were two and all was well. But why do we have to print it at all? Know how you print them? You type in the PLU on the scale and it prints it for you. Why print a sticker with a barcode when that sticker was generated by way of the PLU that could be used at the register? We should ask them about that.
  • Oh, I almost forgot we got a loaf of sandwich bread on Friday. The lady that sliced the bread for me either didn't hear or ignored me the three times I told her I didn't need a plastic bag, so she put it in one anyway. I removed it and left the bag out on some other bagged breads. Still trash that's my fault, I suppose, but the customer service issue is their problem.
  • Piece of tissue paper at the deli counter. The guy couldn't figure out how to tare the scale with my jar on it, so he did his normal tissue paper thing. He didn't have a problem with putting our ham in the jar though, but he did have to throw away our tissue. And of course, another sticker.
  • That obnoxious bottle deposit return slip. I imagine Whole Foods probably recycles those but I still don't get why they use them in the first place.
Not a terribly wasteful trip in the end, if you would kindly ignore the couple gallons of gas spent getting to Lawrence and back. We'll call that family relationship building. You know, since we hung out with Jess's sister, mom, and our niece Aurora. And we even picked out a good looking vegetable soup mix in the bulk aisle at Whole Foods.

2011-10-17

First time trying out the jars

We got some jars!

On Saturday we got up at a respectable hour so we could make it to the Overland Park farmers' market for once. We got a few things there and then went to two Whole Foods and a SuperTarget. We made it out of there with relatively little that will eventually become trash. Details below this picture of all the awesome things we got.



Farmers' market:
  • Strawberries, in a recyclable box. The guy tried to convince us to take them in a plastic bag, even though we clearly had our own bag to carry them in.
  • Apples, which we dumped from their cardboard box into our bag so the box could be reused by the farmer.
  • Jalapenos.
  • Green beans, also dumped into our bag from the box so we could leave the box behind.
  • Garlic, which looks so much better than I ever see at the store.
After the farmers' market we went to Whole Foods but they didn't have everything we needed, so we had to go to the other one on the way to Target.
  • Peanut butter, in one of our new 0.5L jars.
  • English breakfast tea for iced tea, in a tin from Teavana. The 91st and Metcalf store is the only one that has loose-leaf tea in bulk.
  • Chocolate Stampede (dark, milk, and white chocolate plus unsalted peanuts, cashews, almonds, and walnuts) in a 1L jar. They don't have this in bulk at the one on 91st, one of the reasons we had to go to the other one.
  • Yogurt-covered pretzels in a 1L jar.
  • Shatto milk, 1%.
  • One pound of 95% lean beef, in a 1L jar.
  • Some rolled oats in a hemp bulk bag.
  • Half dozen brown eggs (turns out the color of eggs is linked to the color of the hen's earlobes and that's all).
  • A bag of corn flour, because they don't have that in bulk bins.
  • A hatch pepper to add a little variety to the salsa we plan to make.
  • A lime, because they didn't have any at the farmers' market.
  • More marshmallows!
And finally, because they don't have it at Whole Foods and because of my particularities in pizzas, we went to Target and got 5 jars of pizza sauce to avoid having to go as often. We also got a little soap dish for the tub at Target. When we run out of body wash we're going to attempt to use the same soap we use for laundry.

So yeah, there'll be a little trash here. We've got the sticker from the beef, the lids from the pizza sauce spread out over several weeks, the bag from the corn flour, and the lid from the marshmallows. Oh, and those milk bottle lids. By the way, Shatto says they've investigated alternatives to plastic lids but there's only one maker of those bottles and they won't change. Maybe we should bug them about it.

2011-10-13

When it goes straight in the bin, we didn't really need it

For a long time we've been getting "convenience" checks from Chase for our one remaining credit card. The card has a zero balance, but we haven't decided whether we want to cancel it outright. Maybe because of the zero balance, maybe because they just want to make it as easy as possible to use the thing, they've been sending us more and more of these checks. I haven't paid close attention to it but I'm fairly certain we've gotten four batches in the last month or so.

Turns out there are a lot of things we acquire that get thrown directly in the paper recycle bin. It's not all ads or convenience checks or newsletters. There are even things we get in the mail that we can't recycle simply because we feel like it's too close to "personal" information that we should probably shred it. And by shred I mean take to the office shred bin, which I'm relatively certain gets incinerated.

A week ago I started attempting to send some emails to request less mail we perceive to be junk. To me, very close to 100% of the mail we receive is junk. We don't want ads, we can find coupons we actually want some other way, we aren't looking for a new church or Chinese restaurant, and I really don't care to see something from Blue Cross if all they're doing is telling me they paid my claim. Or worse yet have received the claim and are processing it.

So far I've managed to stop a few, though at this point it's hard to tell just by looking at the mailbox.

Here's what I've asked for and the responses I've gotten--this may get boring.

  • We get Topeka Zoo newsletters because we gifted a FOTZ membership to Jess's parents. I asked them to stop the newsletter but never got a response. And today we got a newsletter. Try, try again.
  • We inexplicably get tons of mail from State Farm, though neither of us has ever had insurance from them. I asked them to stop and they told me to call tech support. I replied to that email explaining that it's not exactly a tech support issue but a customer service one. They did not respond, though the email I received didn't mention not replying. I may have to send a new request.
  • Every so often CACU will send us postcards and newslettery sorts of things. The worst one ever just came the other day. They sent us a paper map of all their branch locations with a listing of all their ATMs on the back. It was a neat concept because it folded up nicely into a credit-card-sized packet. But, oh yeah, the Internet! Oh, and they just made a big deal out of their iPhone app which has a branch and ATM locator. Anyway, I asked them to stop sending us ads and whatnot and they said they took us off the list for that sort of thing. I like my credit union.
  • As mentioned, Chase sends us convenience checks all the time. They've said they'll stop sending those and ads to us.
  • Surprisingly I did not get a response from my actual insurance agent. JB where are you man? All we want is to stop getting mail that says that our account will be charged this amount on this date and we should therefore not send a payment because this isn't a bill. If it's not a bill, why am I getting it?
  • Now that I was thinking about it, I've just sent a message to Blue Cross asking if we can stop getting paper copies of the stupid stuff they send us. I generally assume that if I do not receive a large bill from my doctor, the insurance probably held up their end of the deal and paid for my services. And it's typically a safe bet that if the doctor's office doesn't call and say the insurance didn't accept the claim, they are probably processing the claim.
  • We got a random card from Associated Audiologists, so I sent them an email asking how we got on a mailing list and to please stop. They basically said to go sign up for dmachoice.org and that would take care of this sort of thing. So I've just done that and we'll see how effective it is.
  • We periodically got catalogs and newsletters from Samaritan's Purse because we participated in Operation: Christmas Child last year. I don't think we ever really read any of them. I've asked them to stop as well; though I appreciate their mission, I don't need the wasted paper every month. They haven't responded yet.
  • And the first one I did was our King Arthur Flour catalogs. We got them for the last almost-year because Jess got me this awesome dough whisk, which I use to make breads. But seriously, if we're going to buy something from them we will shop the catalog online and purchase online.
There are some more to take care of at some point, but we've made a decent start. I think the tricky one will probably be the ValPak and the Red Plum ads.

2011-10-09

The search for storage

As part of our quest, we need to find a new storage solution for our kitchen consumables. We've got some plastic canisters for flour and sugar currently, but we'd like to have a little consistency with newer purchases. We would also like to switch to glass to avoid any pitfalls of plastics like BPAs, foreign flavors, and staining from things like oils.

Many, many times on that Zero Waste Home blog we've seen the author Bea mention the jars she uses, made by a French company Le Parfait. They're a bit expensive but they look cool and could do double-duty should we decide to attempt canning of some sort. They come in several sizes, so to me the biggest issue in considering buying some is how many and which sizes to get. I have this fear of having a bunch of the wrong size and not having anything to put in them while having a bunch of other stuff that I don't have an adequate size to use for.

These are some of the things we'd be using them for. Maybe this will help us figure out how to plan sizes and numbers.

  • Whole wheat flour could probably use one of the 3 L jars. That's probably close to equivalent with what we've got for flour already. If we continue to make most of our bread (and pizza!), maybe two would be good if only because it would significantly aid in rotating our stock of flour.
  • Wheat gluten could probably stand to be in the .5 L size. I'll only end up using a tablespoon or two per batch of dough, so we can get away with keeping less on hand.
  • Cornmeal and flax seed meal might work best in the 1 L size. I go through enough cornmeal as non-stick material on the pizza stone that we need plenty, but I don't use quite so much that I want to let it go bad because we have too much. We're starting to use flax in the breads I'll make, plus we dump some in things like oatmeal and yogurt so I think we'll get through it quickly enough.
  • Corn flour might be best in the 3 L as well. That is assuming we find it to be a worthwhile and pleasurable enough experience to make our own tortilla chips.
  • We're hoping to find a somewhat coarse salt in the bulk aisle, and when we do, we could surely make a 1 L jar last quite a while. I'd be worried a smaller jar of salt would just mean we'd have to refill it too much. Baking soda, too, perhaps. These will work even if we have to end up buying the salt in boxes anyway.
  • We could use a 2 L for oats, maybe 3 L. I'm not sure how big a standard cylinder of Quaker oats is, volume-wise, but we should be able to get through it quickly enough between breads and oatmeal.
  • For butter, I think next time we make some we can either just use a Pyrex bowl again or try to shape it into a stick and continue to use our butter dish.
  • At some point we'll need more rice, but .5 L of rice would probably last quite a while.
  • Same for any various other grains or legumes; perhaps two to four additional .5 L jars for various uses would be fine.
  • For meat and cheese, I've seen the suggestion that 1 L jars work well, so perhaps one of each for those purposes although there might be a need for more if we got multiple kinds of cheeses.
We're also going to try to find bulk cereals we like, but Jess was thinking of a different style jar for those sorts of things. I'd guess we'd want two to four of that sort of jar at first.

So looks like a decent start might be something like three 3 L jars, six .5 L, and maybe six 1 L jars. The problem there, as I mentioned, is that these are expensive. Just these few jars from Amazon (only place I've seen to buy these kind of jars) would cost us $220. For 15 jars.

Perhaps we should look at alternatives for now, maybe some different jars for normal purposes and only get cannable jars if we actually do some canning.

We're going to World Market in a bit to see what options they have, might come home with some cloth napkins for when our paper ones run out.

2011-10-08

A surprisingly successful Whole Foods visit

We got bulk flour for the first time this evening at the Whole Foods at 91st and Metcalf. They don’t seem to have corn flour in the bulk aisle, but we’re going to check the other Whole Foods at 119th next time. If not, I guess we’ll decide if making corn chips is worth the possibly-recyclable bag we’d have to buy the corn flour in.

Related to the bulk flour, we’re going to see how well it works to make our sandwich bread. I've tried this before but I got lazy after two or three weeks last time. Oh, and fresh warm bread is extremely tempting so it never lasted long. So it’s Friday and I’ve prepared the dough. I’ll put it in the fridge and make the bread either tomorrow or Sunday. The gluten we recently got to make making bread with whole wheat flour a bit easier seems to do the trick. The dough ends up a lot more elastic.

We also got some blocks of cheese to shred. They’re still wrapped in plastic because we don’t have any sort of other container to get them in, but I think the amount of plastic wrap is significantly less wasteful than the amount of plastic in one of the resealable bags. Plus, no starch or whatever they put in bags of shredded cheese to keep it from clumping.

Instead of getting the blue box, we got some cardboard-only not-really-elbow noodles. They’re sort of tubular, but not bent. Anyway, to avoid the trash of the cheese packet, we’ll just shred some cheddar into it and add a little milk. I might consider putting the cheese in the mini prep with a tiny bit of flour to make my own powder. Might be stringier than we’re used to but it should be pretty tasty.

We managed to get our spaghetti bread into one of our bags, but we didn’t get our explanation out in time that we didn’t want to print a whole sticker to scan. We need to try a bit harder next time to ask if we can just give them the PLU for our bread.

This doesn’t necessarily count for much but we got our beef--the leanest they had was 95%--at the counter. Eventually when we get some sort of jars for such things this will mean something. But for now we at least got it fresh.

Butter and bulk

I've caught up to where I started making my Google doc, so I can be a bit more specific about time frames now.

Starting sometime last month (real specific, eh?) we decided we'd give fresh-ground unsalted peanut butter a shot from Whole Foods. We ended up discovering that it's cheaper per ounce to get it this way than it is to get our standard Skippy Natural. And we don't really miss the salt. Or oil. Or sugar.

Last Saturday Jess had a jewelry party at our place. I played the part of obedient servent. Her sister Lacey was here and offered to help us by whipping up some whipped cream to dip some berries in. Lacey's got a nearly-one-year-old girl and by the time she returned to the cream from changing Aurora, it turned out we had some butter on our hands. We counted it as serendipitous, because once we're done with the sticks of butter we have now, we've decided we'll start getting Shatto cream and making our own butter. Should be fresher, and I'm much happier with the cow growing and treatment practices at Shatto than at who-knows-where that our Market Pantry or Hy-Vee butter came from.

On Wednesday Jess put the last of our current package of paper napkins in the holder. By the time these are gone, we're going to get some cloth napkins so we can avoid throwing away at least two napkins a day. 

On Thursday we came up with this great idea that we should be able to avoid buying tortillas and possibly even corn chips now. I mean, I can make pizza dough, how hard could it be? Not hard, it turns out. I gave it a go and it turned out pretty decent. All we need to do is make sure we get them a bit thinner. And get some corn flour to try making some chips. Oh, for now we're going to use up our remaining white flour for tortillas. After that's gone, it's gone. No more white flour will be allowed in the house. Whole wheat tortillas are tastier anyway.

And now we're all caught up! No promises here but if I can manage to keep up with this, it'll be helpful for me at least to see what we've done and in what order as we go. And of course there's always the hope that anyone that happens to be reading might be inspired to make a few changes here and there as well. I for one am actually beginning to cringe at the idea of how much trash is thrown out as the result of one fast food trip.

Regents Center

We moved from Avignon to Regents Center in the fall of 2010. We were moving to a bigger apartment, but we decided to actively start caring about the junk we brought to our new home. We had too much of it. We had boxes at Avignon that we had never unpacked. Most of that ended up being paper that we were at least able to recycle.

In an effort to reduce the amount of Stuff we owned, we went on a little diet. We collected a bunch of things we hadn't used in ages and schlepped it all over to Mom and Dad's for a little garage sale. We ended up making probably around $200, which was the biggest haul from a garage sale I'd ever seen. Not only did it help tidy up the apartment, it meant we had a lot less to pack. And once we arrived in our new home, we boxed up even more stuff to sell. We moved to a bigger place but ended up with less stuff to fill it. I like it.

Here at Regents Center we began to be more aware of our environmental impact and that's where this story really begins. We made several changes pretty early on at this apartment and I don't know exactly when they all happened.

First, we started making our own laundry and dishwasher detergents. This was largely spawned after reading posts on BoingBoing about the no 'poo movement and things of that nature. While the no 'poo thing didn't last long for me--I made it about a month--a few things did change as a result. We went on a small-scale homemade items spree and ended up with two major accomplishments and a minor one (to me).
  • We make our laundry soap. It's 1:1:1 of borax, washing soda (sodium carbonate), and bar of soap (we use Zum's frankincense and myrrh). One tablespoon per load.
  • We make our dishwasher detergent. It's 2:2:1:1 of borax, washing soda, kosher salt, and citric acid (one pound bags can be had at a homebrew shop; I get mine in Olathe). I use one tablespoon loose in the machine and one more in the little thingy that pops open during the second wash cycle. Oh, and if it would work I would also put some vinegar in the Jet-Dry thing.
  • We made some foot spray, the goal of which, I understand, is to refresh your feets after a long day in shoes. Or something. I don't remember exactly how we made this one but it involved mostly vodka and a little bit of tea tree oil. And we added some sort of scented oil to make it smell all pretty.
A couple other achievements we've unlocked since moving here include acquiring nooks to replace paper book purchases, buying only Shatto milk that comes in glass that can be returned, growing some basil we've used once so far, and adding reusable produce and hemp bulk bags to our repertoire.

This is about the point where I can get more specific, date-wise.

Avignon

Now, recycling we didn't begin until we moved to Avignon. Avignon was a fancy place that we paid way too much for, but it was nice and we liked being able to walk to Spin.

Shortly after we moved to Avignon we stopped by Home Depot and grabbed some recycle bins. Unfortunately, living in an apartment has its downsides and one of them is that you don't get much of a choice in your recycling options. Avignon was cool enough, I guess, to have a paper recycling Dumpster next to the trash compactor. But we'd still have to go to the Olathe Walmart to take care of the rest. Because of Olathe's sorting requirements, we ended up with four recycle bins: paper; cardboard; glass; and plastic, tin, and aluminum.

During our time at Avignon we mostly stuck to recycling- and resource-related improvements. The introduction of recycling made a surprising difference in the amount of trash we generated. Had we not done it, we'd have nearly twice as much trash; a bottle of milk takes up quite a bit of space in a trash can.

However, many of our changes were primary financially motivated.

  • We started saving and reusing gift bags and the like.
  • We made an attempt to keep the AC set to 76-78 and the heat to 66-68, though apparently a second-floor apartment ruins much of your capability to maintain a comfortable -temperature for cheap.
  • We started paying a bit more attention to the number of water bottles we went through and began to use reusable bottles a bit more.

Being cheap was, I would say, the main concern here but I don't want to not take any credit. We did want to be environmentally friendly--we were recycling and using less electricity whenever we could. The bottled water thing though, I just always hated the whole concept of paying for water when the tap was free.

Another thing we changed at Avignon was that I began to make pizza again. This is something I hadn't done since the Fellowship Of the Ring came out on DVD, when we had a big watch party at my parents' house and, being too young for wine, we had the option of both "white" or red Mountain Dew along with the pizza. Let's just say that back then my pizza kind of sucked. I've learned a few tricks since then.

So recycling, energy mindfulness, bottled-water consumption, and pizza-making were about the extent of our active pursuits of environmental awesomeness at Avignon. Oh, we grew some catnip on the balcony but we had to live vicariously through Sibby to gain any benefit from that.

The next big change came as we were planning our move to Regents Center.

Millcreek Woods

When I moved out of my parents' house, I moved to a tiny apartment at Millcreek Woods in Olathe. Jess lived at an apartment in Holton, KS, a bit north of Topeka. We weren't married yet. And we didn't seem to worry too much about being wasteful. I don't mean we would purposely print out emails or throw soda cans on the ground. Just that we had our trash cans and maybe we'd have to empty them weekly. It's hard to tell how much trash we were responsible for, actually, because we ate out a bit more often than I would think of as healthy.

We may not have worried so much about what went into our trash cans, but at least we used CFLs. These weren't the dark ages, after all. And who really wants to have a collection of Walmart sacks? Yeah, they're useful for scooping the cat box but I was never happy about them.

Anyway, CFLs and reusable shopping bags seem like such piddly little things at this point, if only because they were easy enough that we didn't really think about them as changes. That's the sort of small changes we were working on in the 2008-2009 range.

In fact, they might be so piddly that at this point I might consider them not even steps at all but sort of our baseline. Of course we used CFLs! Who wouldn't reuse shopping bags?

I might even, to a minor extent, think of people who don't use CFLs and reusable bags wherever possible in almost the same category as those who don't wash their hands after they use the bathroom.

But that's about where it ends at this time. No recycling to speak of, I was proud of myself for dumping cable after only a couple months of paying for something I didn't end up using all that much. My environmental awareness, you might say, was a bit drowsy.

Again, I'm not a big fan of multi-page posts. Let's move on to Avignon...

We want to make less trash

Partially inspired by some previous research on homemade cleaning products--we make our laundry and dish detergent--and even more inspired by the Zero Waste Home blog, Jess and I have made a decision to begin reducing the amount of waste we generate in our lives. We haven't done a whole lot so far, but even the simple step of beginning to recycle what we can has significantly reduced the number of trips to the dumpster we make.


I began to write a Google doc to chronicle our progress but after I got some of the history down, I decided I wanted to be able to date things a little more accurately in the future.

Now, I'm prone to typing and typing without realizing how long it's getting (insert joke here), so I'll stop here and post a couple more small topical posts that will serve as summaries up to this point.