Jul 282009

It’s been a dairy-focused week here in Green Garbage Land as we’ve endeavored to reduce the amount of materials we bring into the house thanks to our dairy purchases.  Not only are we striving to live trash-free, we are also hoping to reduce the overall amount of packaging we bring into the home, even if it’s recyclable.  This is because, especially if we’re talking about plastics, many materials in the recycling stream are not truly recyclable – that is, they cannot be recycled indefinitely.  In a process called “downcycling,” each time non-raw materials are reprocessed, they lose some of the properties that make them usable.  So, even if we recycle everything, it may ultimately still wind up in the landfill.

 Anyway, much of the packaging we bring into the house comes from our dairy purchases.  I’ve mentioned before that I’m a vegetarian, but I do still eat organic/free range dairy and egg products.  Typically, we purchase cream cheese, sour cream, yogurt, a variety of shredded cheeses, ice cream, butter, and milk.  All of these can be found in packaging that is recyclable, but it’s unrealistic to think that after we recycle the package, it will never end up in a landfill.  At best, we’re simply delaying the time until it gets there. 

I e-mailed the Tillamook Cheese Company located here in Oregon and made one of the strangest requests of my life – could I swing by the factory with my reusable containers and pick up some unpackaged cheese?  The answer was, predictably, no, though the company representative was extremely gracious and interested in our project.  We started looking a little closer to home and found the Willamette Valley Cheese Company, a local cheesemaking operation only twenty minutes from our house.  They make soft cheeses like mozzarella, havarti, and Gouda.  I called the company and again made the same request, and this time, it was granted.  We drove through lovely scenic farm company to the cheese company and passed their cows along the way.  We were taken behind the scenes to the cheese-cutting room where a wheel of fresh Gouda was waiting for us – so fresh that it had never touched packaging.  We were able to chat with one of the employees, a nice woman named Bonnie who wished us luck on our project and wondered what we’re doing to avoid bathroom generated trash. 

After we had a hunk of Gouda cut from the wheel, she asked us to hold on a minute and came back with yet another wheel of cheese, a variation the company had planned to yield one flavor but that in actuality cultivated an entirely different flavor.  Because of this, they couldn’t sell the cheese under the label they had planned.  We tasted it and loved it – and because it was an unlabeled variety, she gave us a discount from the usual price.

I wish I could freeze-frame this half-hour experience and share it with everyone else as it is so illustrative of our project and its overall goals.  Not only did we not produce ANY garbage from this purchase, we bought a local product and got to see inside the farm.  Instead of wondering whether my cheese was made at a farm that treats its cows humanely, I saw firsthand how well the cows were treated.  Plus, we made a face-to-face connection with a member of the community. 

I also took the time to make butter and ice cream this week, both of which are extremely simple projects.  Lacking a butter churn, I reverted to a childhood science experiment method of making butter – heavy whipping cream poured in a glass jar with a marble inside.  Shake this long enough and it turns into butter and buttermilk.  Ice cream is even simpler with the machine we received as a wedding present three years ago.  We’ve used this occasionally, but it makes sense to use it much more frequently.  Ice cream consists of a few ingredients I generally have around the house – milk, heavy cream, sugar, vanilla and whatever flavorings are desired.  We made vanilla and marionberry.

We also ordered toothbrushes from the Preserve company, and I’m excited to see these arrive.  These toothbrushes have handles made from recycled yogurt cups and the neat thing is, once the toothbrushes are used, they are sent back to the company again to be recycled.  They also sell razors and kitchen utensils made from recycled plastic.

Garbage produced was minimal this week, and I’m responsible for all of it: one disposable razor blade and an empty contraceptive pill pack.  I’m still searching for an acceptable garbage-free razor solution, so stay tuned.

During week 4, we have our two nephews, Taylor and Hunter, visiting from Washington.  We expect our taste of living garbage free without kids to be a challenge, especially because we want to take the boys to some tourist-y locations which don’t exactly cater to a green lifestyle.  The boys are excited to live garbage-free with us, though, especially since there’s a chance they might be on TV with us (another Portland TV station arranged an interview with us for this upcoming Thursday).

Jul 202009

Two weeks down, and unfortunately, the contents of the garbage shoebox have grown by a few items. Other than the cat litter and meat scraps we produce each week, which are the ONLY things allowed in our garbage can, we’re saving all our garbage in a shoebox. So far, the contents include: two pieces of tape, one squeaky dog toy ran over by the lawnmower, the leftover vials from Frontline flea medicine for cat and dog, and the safety seal around a bottle of contact lens solution.

The squeaky toy was a sad accident (you should have seen Kavik’s face) and the other two items seem unavoidable. Adam and I decided before we started this project that we weren’t going to be giving up medical devices, and we count contacts in this category. We haven’t yet found a replacement for our regular contact lens solution but we are looking. Does anyone know of a non-garbage-producing brand of lens cleaner? Eventually, we will have to change our contacts and will incur garbage in the form of used lenses and new lens blister packs.

As far as the flea medicine goes, we think this is a necessity for our animals’ health and well-being and for our house’s sanitation. However, I am wondering whether a natural flea medicine exists, much like citronella is naturally occurring and repels mosquitoes. Hmmm – if anyone knows of anything like this, please let me know.

In other news, we had an exciting garbage-free week! (In the scheme of things, 5 small piece of garbage in a week still isn’t too bad!). We were interviewed by two local news agencies and are starting to get a bit of publicity for our project. We’re excited about this and hope it continues so we might inspire other people to reduce their garbage, too.

 A Portland TV station called KOIN Local 6 (the CBS affiliate station) interviewed us for their Generation Green report and gave us two and a half minutes on the evening news. It was a new experience being interviewed for a TV camera and we enjoyed meeting the reporter and camera woman. They spent about an hour with us last Friday. You can view the interview here: http://www.koinlocal6.com/content/generationgreen/default.aspx?articleID=11501 and it’s also posted under the “News” tab.

I was also interviewed by the newspaper Adam works for, the weekly Polk County Itemizer Observer. The article will appear in this Wednesday’s issues, and I’ll post the link once it’s published.

We also had our first garbage-free restaurant and movie theater experiences, which were quite interesting. We saw Harry Potter last Friday and because we wanted Icees at the theater, we brought our own cups. The concession stand employee was nice enough to oblige, though she clearly found our request unusual. We also bought a popcorn, which at our theater comes in a bag made from recycled paper. Nice.

This experience got me thinking, however. Why is it odd that I brought my own beverage cup to the theater? Isn’t this something American society now encourages? Many coffee stands now give discounts to people who bring their own cups; the same is true at convenience stores. Why not movie theaters?

We also ate out at restaurants several times, bringing along our own takeaway containers each time. We thought navigating a restaurant according to trash-free tenets would be difficult but it proved reasonably straightforward. Most of the trash a person generates in a restaurant is made from paper (napkins, napkin ring, chip/bread basket liner, paper towel from restroom) and if we couldn’t avoid these, they came home with us and were placed in our burn basket. We had to completely do without straws, those mini coffee creamer containers, and the individual jam containers with breakfast. If everyone did this, we could drastically reduce the amount of trash each restaurant produces.

My parents visited this weekend and brought Adam and me an anniversary present. My mom was kind enough to wrap the present entirely in paper and string – no tape, even. Thanks Mom!

I’m hard at work on the first draft of our book as well as a book proposal to send off to agents. We feel like we’re making a difference everyday, which keeps us motivated. 50 weeks to go!

Jul 132009

One garbage-free week down and 51 to go! It’s been a busy week for us here on the no-garbage front, not because of the Green Garbage Project but because of a new kitten and a new washer and dryer that had to be installed. In many ways, our garbage-free lifestyle has been on the back of my mind – we spent so much time prepping to go garbage-free that it’s become essentially second nature. Living in a way that creates little or no garbage is a front-loaded project. Once the preparations are in place, it’s simply not that hard.

That said, our daily routine has changed in subtle ways. Dinner dishes become a little more complicated as aluminum foil yogurt lids need to be washed and dried, ditto for plastic bags, the food waste now goes in the compost instead of the trash, and our recycling is separated into bins for glass, curbside pickup, and Portland drop-off. Basically, we do a lot more sorting now than we used to.

Grocery shopping became a much longer endeavor than it usually is, though this is really no chore since I love to grocery shop. We’ll see if I say the same during the school year, but right now, it’s fun.

Wednesday was shopping day. I headed downtown to Salem’s Wednesday farmer’s market and picked up all the produce I need and then some. Treasures include a vibrant purple cauliflower and fat rainier cherries. Yum. Then off to Fred Meyer for regular shopping where the deli clerk looked at me like I had 18 eyes when I asked for my cheese to be wrapped in paper, not plastic. Lots of canned goods in the cart and a noticeable lack of frozen or packaged food like chips, cookies, granola bars, etc. Then, a quick trip to Waremart for bulk foods like pasta and dog chews, which, since Kavik has decided he doesn’t like, I will now be hunting for another substitute to.

I also swung by Petco for some cat supplies and found a neat product – scoop your own litter! I bought a big plastic litter container (it’s recyclable) and once we use up the litter, I bring the container back to the store and refill it. It’s cheaper to scoop my own than buy another container. This is a great little example of reduce, reuse, recycle: I reduce the number of litter containers I buy by reusing this original one, which can eventually be recycled.

Meal preparation hasn’t changed much, though some meals take a little more time. Making pizza from scratch, for example, is a bit slower than popping a frozen pizza in the oven. I’ve been dipping into my stores of preserved food in the freezer which got me wondering about Ziploc freezer bags. I’d checked that plastic bags that are stretchy are recyclable at Far West Fibers, but I wanted to make double sure.

(This is probably a good place to mention that my new greatest fear is that I’ll bring my load of recyclables to a recycling depot and be told that something I thought was recyclable in fact isn’t, and that someone on the phone gave me wrong info. So, I’m obsessively double-checking everything….)

Anyway, I learned that while Ziploc bags are recyclable, the zippers are not. Uh-oh. So I got depressed, then started researching other disposal options. I found this awesome Web site: http://www.lousupcycles.blogspot.com/ Here we have someone who despises trash so much, she invites people to send her their foldable packaging – things that would otherwise end up in landfills – and she makes bags, placemats, and other fun stuff from this packaging. I contacted Lou, and she’s more than happy to take my freezer bags.

So, the zippered plastic bags in my house will used and sent to Lou, then no more Ziplocs for us. I also have a piece of cardstock hanging in my kitchen that is a sticking place for produce stickers that I will eventually send to Sticker Man, who makes neat mosaics out of produce stickers. Check it out at http://stickermanproduceart.wordpress.com/

All that said, we reached a couple garbage conundrums that required some discussion and rule-making on our part. First, I went to see an allergist on Thursday and it wasn’t until I walked out the door after my appointment that I realized that my visit had produced garbage: a tongue depressor, a plastic ear-looking device thingie, two paper cups, and a plastic medicine measurer. Does this count as my garbage? On one hand, yes – if I hadn’t gone to the doctor and used those things, they wouldn’t be in the trash. On the other hand, no – I didn’t buy them in the first place.

Second, our landlord came and did some repairs on the house and produced garbage in the process, which he threw in our can before I knew what was happening.

And thirdly, I used up wet dog food my family left behind last weekend that happened to be in a plastic container. The plastic container is recyclable, but it’s wrapped in a hard plastic that probably isn’t (I called the company and they couldn’t even tell me what the plastic wrapper was made from, so I guess I’ll take it to a recycling depot and see what they say). After discussions, here’s what we decided about these decidedly gray areas. If someone else buys the item and uses it up, that’s their trash (like the landlord garbage and the medical trash). If, however, someone else buys an item but we use it up, that’s our trash, like the dog food container.

All in all, our bin went to the curb with cat litter, about a cup of chicken scraps, and the sheetrock mud container from our landlord. We produced a single piece of trash this week in the form of a piece of yellow duct tape stuck to the used washer and dryer we purchased. The dog food wrapper may be added later, but we’ll see. This is exponentially less than we generally produce. One piece of tape and maybe a plastic wrapper compared to three pounds a day? I’d say we’re off to a good start.

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