Earth Day, Earth Love

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.      

Getty Images

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 frig: carrots in cloth bag, homemade almond milk, peas kept fresh in a vintage glass storage container.

 

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.  

a pantry shelf with jars of bulk purchased items and pasta in cardboard box.

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.      

bees wax cloth, which molds to sandwiches, bowls, etc. and can be wiped clean. Scrub brushes. dish rags

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!

The Castile soaps we buy come in paper wrappers. The soap we’ve always bought for personal use is Sappho Soap, made in Oregon, does not come in wrappers. Borax and Washing Soda are used in many homemade cleaning products. That’s the toilet paper we like!

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.

Spring cleaning our Mother Earth

“We have met the enemy and he is us.” Pogo

Living in Eugene, Oregon, in the early 70s, while attending the University of Oregon, I volunteered at the first Lane County recycling center, housed in an old warehouse. People dropped off bags and boxes of glass bottles outside the warehouse all hours of the day and night.  Boxes and bags of bottles piled up.  My volunteer shifts were spent hoisting cardboard boxes of glass bottles over my head, dumping them down a chute into a huge, noisy, glass-crushing contraption. Crushed glass was literally everywhere. It was unsafe to say the least! But those of us who volunteered were dedicated to recycling.

Cartoonist Walt Kelly drew this cartoon for the first Earth Day in 1970. He first used the quote in his book, the “Pogo Papers” in 1953. It is a parody of  “We have met the enemy, and they are ours”,  sent in 1813 from U.S. Navy Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry to Army General William Henry Harrison after his victory in the Battle of Lake Erie.

On the first Earth day in 1970 I was living and going to college in Washington DC where the event gathered a large crowd to hear inspiring speeches. I remember the educational booths of various environmental organizations and early “green” businesses. When I attended this event I didn’t know Earth Day had been proposed by Senator Gaylord Nelson, a Democrat from Wisconsin  determined to convince the government the planet was at risk. It was a bipartisan supported campaign that resulted in the establishment of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Clean Air, Clean Water, and Endangered Species Acts being passed later in 1970. Nelson had announced his Earth Day idea in the fall of 1969 at a conference in Seattle, the city of my birth.

Washington state, where I live, is my “homeland”. Most of my relatives live here, my parents grew up here. Northwest roots shape my values and attitudes about Nature and the planet.  My dad, an active member of the Sierra Club later in life, had backpacked in the Cascade and Olympic mountains in his youth and from infancy until we moved from Washington when I was 4, our family spent summer vacations and weekends at a family owned cabin on Dabob Bay on the beautiful Olympic Peninsula. When we moved to the east coast we continued to camp weekends and summer vacations from Canada to the Carolinas.  My parent’s love of the outdoors was instilled in my brothers and I early in life. Also instilled in us were their depression-era values and the values they both inherited coming from farm based families (dad grew up on a small chicken farm, mother’s mother grew up on a dairy farm). Those values include reuse. Don’t create waste. Keep and fix what you have. Be frugal.

How do you instill these values in people who missed that early “programming” to appreciate Nature and to not be wasteful? Because in the decades since that first Earth Day, in spite of large municipal recycling programs, in spite of environmental education taught in schools, in spite of a multitude of public awareness campaigns, and in spite of science based warnings that go back further than Earth Day, we as a society continue to destroy resources (our own and those of “developing” nations), to litter, to pollute our waters, to make and consume cheap goods that eventually break, become unused and are tossed into landfills. (Landfills! What a term, fill the land, the earth, the planet we live on with our garbage. What were we thinking!) How do you teach people who never have felt connected to Nature that everything they do, every choice they make, impacts the planet they and all future life is dependent on?

Like the people leaving those bags and boxes of bottles outside that early recycling center, people feel good recycling but do not stop and think – what happens to all this stuff. Nor do they change their consumption practices. They think they are doing good because they recycle. And they are, sort of.  Recycling is not enough, it never was and now recycling itself has become an international waste disaster.

My commitment to living a planet-friendly life sometimes gets eroded with a sense of “what difference does my small effort make”, an unfortunate attitude shared by many people.  As aging and health challenges drain my energy I often let things slip, making decisions based on what’s “easy” but not necessarily the best for the planet, and thus, ultimately for myself. There is stress when our actions do not reflect our values, and I feel that stress.

What we need to remember is communal and global shifts occur when many people do small things.  Positive action, repeated every day by millions of people, creates the energy of change.

So here are the 5 Rs, popular guidelines for making personal decisions that make a difference and help focus on values important to all of us who care about the Earth:

Refuse…..Consume less, don’t buy things you don’t need, don’t take freebies just because they’re free, say no to single use items, i.e. plastic utensils in the deli or plastic produce or grocery bags. Purchase and use reusable items. Say no to plastic packaging. When possible, purchase items with the least packaging. Buying local eliminates added packaging when items are shipped, as well as the energy used to transport it.  Tip: A great place to say no – don’t upgrade your cell phone just because there’s a new model, they consume huge amounts of valuable, some rare, resources.

Repair……Fix or have fixed what you can – clothes, furniture, appliances, etc. Buy quality, the best you can afford (buying less overall allows you to purchase better quality items you need to buy). If something is made better it lasts longer and is more likely to be fixable.

Reuse……..Up-cycle clothes, building materials, containers, etc. If you can’t reuse it, someone else might, so give it away and look for used items yourself rather than always buying new. But only give away what is truly reusable, a lot of charitable “donations” end up in landfills.

Recycle……A last resort, because there isn’t much true recycling going on. Currently most plastic is not being recycling. Find places that truly recycle before thinking you are doing good when you might just be passing on to someone else the act of tossing it in a landfill.

Rot…….Compost everything you can, which is most kitchen scraps and even some paper. Choose products that say they are biodegradable, and be sure they are. If you doubt it (like something plastic that says “biodegradable”) it probably isn’t. Get a worm bin (there are kits designed for people in small living spaces). Employee these tiny recyclers!

I add to this list Recreate, in Nature, because I believe we care for and feel more connected to that which we are familiar with. Connect to the Earth, then remember her when you make decisions.

If this list represents the values of our parents and/or grandparents, how did so many people in the “baby boom” generation turn away and exploit Nature, ignoring the consequences of their actions?  It can be attributed to self-centeredness, greed, and campaigns to encourage consumerism, such as one that was implemented following WWII to boost the economy and create jobs.

At its core it is a disconnect from our spiritual selves, the part of us that knows we are interconnected to a bigger web of life and need to, want to, care for it. Reconnecting to Nature helps establish a relationship which, like all relationships, we need to nurture.

A few daily choices I make:

Using cloth bags for small produce items that need bagging, i.e. peas, green beans, etc., bulk grains and nuts eliminates plastic bags. I make bags from fabric I have (including vintage cloth rice bags).  If you want to buy bags and can’t find bags locally, you can buy cloth bags on line, if you like cute home made ones check out Etsy, there are a lot!

Buying bulk household items, i.e. dish soap, using the same container over and over (which is an old plastic dish soap bottle, but a glass pump bottle, like we use in bathroom, works too) reduces plastic bottles. Next on my list is to make dish soap and cleansers, a relatively easy process. We also purchase sponges made from nature materials, like walnut husks, that are biodegradable.

IMG_6500

this simple body and face cream is yellow from calendula infused oil and beeswax, it does not color the skin.

Making simple personal care products, i.e. healing and moisturizing salves. It really is simple, if you want to try find a recipe using basic ingredients – a good quality oil such as coconut and/or olive and a little beeswax. I use herb infused oils for salves, but plain oils work fine for moisturizing lotions. In fact plain coconut oil works well as is! Many recipes include essential oils for fragrance, but some skin can be sensitive to essential oils so I don’t use them. (You can usually buy chemical free products made locally by small businesses who package them in glass jars.)

I’ve suggested to an herbal supplement company we buy many products from that they consider switching to glass bottles. Whenever possible we buy glass or cardboard containers. We have found a rice pasta we love that comes in a box, no plastic.  (Glass “recycling” isn’t as determental to the environment as plastic, but the production of glass is not chemical free so reuse when you can.)

These are just a few ways we try to live our values.  We are not ‘zero waste’, but our efforts not only contribute to the whole, but feel good to us and simplify life.  I have a list of steps yet to take, i.e. making shampoo or finding a bar shampoo I like and making laundry soap, also relatively easy.

Share your suggestions and ‘action steps’ in comments below. There are many resources on-line for “zero waste” living, for following the 5 Rs (sometimes it’s the 4 Rs), for making simple home products, many similar to those previous generations used.  You can find blogs by younger people who will still be here when I and my generation are long gone, who understand the crisis and are working against time to clean up the planet by changing values. I find their passion inspirational and it helps me remember my own passion….the one that made me crush glass when I was 22….. for earth friendly living.

Happy Spring cleaning as we clean up this planet together!