Today is Earth Day, the beginning of Earth Week, time to roll up our collective sleeves, stop talking, and start doing life differently on this planet. It’s a cliché, but never the less true, there’s not another one like it. We seem designed to live best on this planet, at least the way it was when we first arrived.
Mike and I have taken steps to live a better, earth friendly life. Some of these steps are steps back to the way we use to do things, as explained in my last post: “Spring cleaning our Mother Earth”. This post is an update with more details of our action steps thus far. I hope you will read on and find what I share helpful, it’s my long love letter of suggestions for living an earth healing life.
What motivates “oldsters” like us to change our ways? I am reminded of when I lived in rentals in my 20s. We always left the places we rented in better shape when we moved out then they were when we moved in. The generation I am part of has not done so to our Earth home, where we are only “renters”, temporary residents. We will be gone, but other’s will be living here. I feel an obligation, and desire, to make an effort, however small, to leave it better than it is now. Everyone who makes an effort to do so makes a difference.
Our immediate goal has been to bring no new plastic into our lives when and if there is an alternative and choice. The areas of our life where we don’t have an obvious choice (yet) mostly have to do with health care….i.e. supplements we can’t find in glass jars or prescription medications.
The plastic recycling “fad” worked at getting people to recycle, but the actual recycling industry that was supposed to develop to recycle and reuse the waste products being recycled did not keep up with the increased amount of plastic waste generated. It’s an industry that never developed, mostly because there is more money in generating and promoting new plastic and other human made, non-biodegradable materials.
Here are three articles on how the recycling of plastic has failed, you can find many more if you do an internet search:
1. China has refused to recycle the west’s plastic. Now what?
2. The recycling game is rigged against you
3. Why the world’s recycling system stopped working
In our personal efforts to reduce we are not getting rid of plastic we already have in our lives just because it’s plastic. (See my previous post for the 5 Rs – refuse, repair, reuse, recycle and rot). If it is reusable plastic, the longer we keep it and use it the longer it stays out of a landfill or out of a broken recycling system. All plastic, even if re-manufactured or reused, eventually ends up there…..”there” being incinerated garbage that causes toxic air pollution, or dumps where it is buried in the earth, or dumped into our water systems – rivers, oceans. Plastics are made from toxins, they take literally forever to break down, they break down into toxins.
So how have we reduced our plastic intake, and waste in general? We’ve researched packaged items we buy and either replaced them with non-package alternatives (i.e. making our own) or chosen brands with less toxic packaging (non-plastic package). There are still some products packaged in plastic we buy, it takes time to find alternatives.
Glass and paper/cardboard also require energy resources and chemicals to make. Paper, unless made of some easily renewable resource such as bamboo or recycled paper, uses trees that are much needed to sustain life on this planet. No packaging is best when possible. However, glass is an alternative to plastic because it is more often reusable and more often recycled. Paper and cardboard can be recycled and if instead are put in a landfill, break down quicker. Most brown paper/cardboard is made from recycled paper. We have found packaging made from recycled paper cardboard or from a cellulose (wood) material that looks like cellophane. We read the labels of products to see what the box or bag is made of. Be wary…often what looks like cellophane is a plastic product. Plastic comes in many forms and goes by many names.
How we’ve reduced packaging
In the kitchen we stopped buying pre-packaged products when possible, such as some Bob’s Red Mill products, we were using, opting instead for oats in bulk (as we use to do) and oat flour in brown paper bags by Fairhaven Mills. (I hope Bob’s Red Mill might change some of their packaging, as it’s a good company.) We already buy all our nuts and grains in bulk.
Some examples of making it ourselves:
I make almond milk….no more coconut milk on Mike’s cereal, he loves the almond milk and it is more economical than any packaged milk-substitute. Easy, delicious, no packaging. Will be experimenting with other nut milks as well as oat milk. (see almond milk recipe below.)
Homemade salsa…..for when Mike has that salsa craving. I like my homemade better. It takes about 10 minutes, longer if you roast tomatoes first, which makes for a richer taste. No more plastic tubs.
I’ve made vinegar from apple skins and cores, it’s still in process. We mostly use vinegar in cleaning and it comes in plastic jugs, so finding a better way for cheap vinegar is important. Good quality vinegar for food use can be bought in glass jars.
Other package reductions:
We use cloth bags for all our veggies and bulk foods, i.e. grains, nuts, spices and herbs. Also we take cloth bags into other stores, not just grocery stores. No more plastic bags. Period.
When buying fish we ask that they only wrap it in paper, no plastic bag please. No problem.
We’ve given up some treats……for example frozen blueberries in the “off season” in plastic bags, but apples in our oatmeal and muffins are just as good and we will really be excited for blueberry season when we can pick our own or buy in bulk (hopefully). In the big picture, we both agree the things we’ve given up are easier to live without than the stress of contributing more plastic to the waste stream.
There are food products, especially ones bought for Abby, who is an elderly dog requiring a special homemade diet, we still buy in plastic packaging, but it is less and less as we find other options.
Food storage: We’ve always used/had glass containers for leftovers, etc. they mostly have plastic lids, if I was purchasing new I’d find ones with glass lids, after first looking for them in second hand stores. We use glass to store produce like peas or other small items often bought and stored in plastic bags. Other produce goes into produce drawer or stays in cloth bags in frig. I’ve read damping a cloth bag will help keep certain items fresher, I haven’t needed to try this.
Glass jars are fantastic, save jars from any products you buy and reuse for storage of bulk items, homemade items, left overs.
I made beeswax infused cloth as an alternative to plastic wrap, but I’ve never used plastic wrap so haven’t used it yet. You can buy beeswax cloth ready made for wrapping sandwiches, covering bowls, etc. I cover bowls with plates. It’s pricy, but it lasts a long time and has many uses.
Dish washing: We wash dishes with Castile bar soap, and really like it! Gets everything clean even with our hard well water. For back up when we have a full sink load plus, i.e. when company is over, we keep a backup, liquid dish soap bought in bulk in our own reusable bottle. No more new plastic dish soap bottles.
We stopped using sponges that need throwing away and are made of toxic materials and glues (and are havens for bacteria). We use dish rags to wash dishes, throw them in the laundry to keep clean, they’re easy to use with the Castile bar soap when washing dishes. A wood handled scrub brush gets stuck on food off, but conscientious soaking helps avoid the stuck stuff. Our scrub brush is one we had, it has plastic bristles, if we need to replace we’ll get a natural bristle one. First “rule”: use what you have!
Laundry soap – switched to a brand available in bulk, experimented with making laundry soap with borax, Castile soap, and washing soda, still working on that! Liked what I made, and it cleaned well, but not sure it got all rinsed out, even with vinegar added. Those without hard well water would find homemade laundry soap a good alternative to plastic packaged soap. At least you can buy it in bulk, reducing plastic bottles.
Bathroom products. We decided to purchase a case of toilet paper from a company that makes both bamboo toilet paper and toilet paper made from 100% recycled paper that comes in recycled paper wrappers – not plastic. The company donates 50% of their profits to programs that provide toilets to people and places in the world that need them. I did a lot of research on this. In the past recycled paper toilet paper did not work for me, too rough. We’re really happy with this company’s product. I’m a little dubious of all the bamboo growing, so we chose the recycled paper. Yes, it is shipped to us, as it’s not sold in stores, but toilet paper in a store is also shipped. A case of 48 will last us a long time! And the wrappers are cute! I encourage you to check out their web site: Who Give’s A Crap, because they do!
Kleenex tissues are for cold season, if at all. We both have used handkerchiefs in the past and just got lazy. Use what you have, and we have them, but if you need to purchase handkerchiefs they’re a cheap long term investment and will save a lot of trees, plus eliminate any plastic in the packaging of Kleenex tissues.
I tried a shampoo bar, it felt like it left a residue, though I’ve read that after you do it several weeks that goes away, it’s the interaction between the commercial shampoos and the bar shampoo. Buying shampoo in bulk in reusable container for now, but I’ve never liked all the ingredients in most shampoos so will give the bar shampoos another try. Have a few different ones to try and if they don’t work they can be used as body soap. Bulk liquids come in plastic bottles that still have to be disposed of by the store, so when possible we still try to find alternatives to packaged products.
The bamboo handle toothbrush I bought was great at cleaning my teeth, but the wider handle caused some irritation inside my mouth in one place, so hope to find a narrower handle brand. I’ve ordered another one to try.
I bought several toothpastes not in plastic tubes, and like them. We both have had a lot of dental work and do use a toothpaste with fluoride, so for now, sadly, will stick to our old brand in the throw away, non-reusable tube for at least one brushing a day. Remember I said the places in our lives where obvious choices and alternatives haven’t been found are in health care. If you do not use fluoride toothpaste there are great choices of pastes in non-plastic tubes or jars, tooth powders, or you can easily make your own! (Did you know many toothpastes have polyethylene micro beads in them, a major ocean pollution that threatens ocean life?)
I bought a dental floss, Eco-dent, that comes in a cardboard box with only a small plastic spool, but that spool is the type of thing that ends up in landfills and the ocean. I have read of a floss in a glass container with refillable floss, but have yet to find a place to purchase it.
Mike likes to use a mouth wash…..so I found a recipe and made him one! One more plastic bottle gone from our lives!
On the road. We do eat out when “on the road” to appointments, etc. Many soups from our favorite soup places come with plastic lids and I’ve spoken to stores about this as there are soup cups available with cardboard lids, some places we go use them. We plan to try bringing our own containers and see how stores feel about that. We carry silverware and cloth napkins in the car in a picnic bag. No need for throw away plastic ware or paper napkins. (We still have plastic ware and include it in our car stash, then wash and reuse)
Now – about doggy bags…..when what we have are gone, no more. The wrapping on the toilet paper we now use, cut in half, is adequate for the little doggy poop we need to clean up when in parks, there’s always a trash can nearby. If there isn’t we can have a container in the car to take it home. It has always bothered me to use a single-use plastic bag to move doggy poop from the ground to the trash. There are definitely alternatives! If you need a bag you might consider non-bleached wax paper lunch bags. Or if you still purchase products in plastic, reuse the plastic for doggy poop, not the best solution, but reusing before tossing is better than a single-use plastic bag.
It’s not about being the perfect zero-waste person/family/household, though there are some fascinating blogs and web sites about people who are nearly so. It’s not possible for most people. It’s about doing the best you can to make choices that are earth friendly, because even small steps are a big deal. If millions, billions, of people reduced their waste by even 1% that is A LOT! 2% is better, and doable. If only thousands reduce it by 10% it will be a significant impact. There is no such thing as “my little efforts don’t count”. There was life before everything was wrapped in plastic, many us ‘oldsters” are best at remembering and reteaching what that was like (the history and promotion of plastic is interesting, and scary. Campaigns to promote a “need” for plastic where there was no need were very methodically carried out and still are). There are alternatives for most things.
It’s fun, and economical. I had fabric to make our bags, we had the dish cloths, a scrub brush, etc. If you do buy items to enable you to use less throw away plastic, it’s cost effective over time because you will use what you buy a long time. We’ve used up old products in plastic bottles we won’t purchase any more and find buying bulk is cheaper and making our own when we can even cheaper.
If you’ve read this far, thank you, hope it has inspired you to take those small steps. Make every day a Earth-loving and caring day in your home.
Today is also the birthday anniversary of John Muir, naturalist, author, environmentalist, who had many wise things to say about our relationship to Nature, including this:
“There is a love of wild Nature in everybody, an ancient mother-love ever showing itself whether recognized or not, and however covered by cares and duties.” ― John Muir
Let us begin to treat the earth as a mother would a child, nurturing it, caring for it, helping it to be its best…..for it is also our mother, nurturing us, giving us life, and can not do so when it is sick.