Mar 302010
 

My whirlwind of a Spring Break was so busy and filled with garbage-free or otherwise green projects, I’ll need to devote several posts just to catch myself up.  I mentioned last week an interest in learning to bake traditionally “garbage-full” products like granola bars, chips, crackers, etc, which is what tonight’s post will be about.  I’ll try to add more posts throughout the week (sometimes it’s hard to keep a date with this blog more than once a week, but keep checking).  You can also friend Green Garbage Project on Facebook,and you’ll get all my new posts added to your news feed.  Anyway, over the next days (or week) I’ll be posting about my adventures (or misadventures) with raw milk, putting in a kitchen garden, and some upcycling craft forays. 

So, I’ve always been pretty handy around the kitchen, thanks in large part to my mom, who is a great cook.  I typically make many of my bread products from scratch (bagels, pies, cinnamon rolls, and so on), and one of my favorite hobbies is finding a new recipe and testing it out.  There are many, many products, though, that we buy pre-made.  Prior to our garbage-free life, these included prepackaged products like: chips, granola bars, toaster pastries, instant oatmeal pouches, frozen foods, etc.  We’re big on eating healthy, locally, and naturally, so these types of products were mostly reserved for when I pack school lunches for myself.  After starting our project, we simply abandoned most of these products, making do without them. 

Many of our readers have pointed out that there’s no reason we can’t make a lot of these food items, which is very true.  I just needed to find the time to try out some new recipes, and Spring Break afforded me the perfect opportunity.  That said, here are the recipes Mom and I tried, with pictures to prove that we did this. 

Potato Chips: Ah, the ubiquitous potato chip – elusive to a garbage-free aficionado like myself.  Why not make my own?  The process is simple enough: bring cooking oil to temperature in a deep pot (or use a deep fat fryer – I don’t have one of these).  Different recipes call for different types of oil, so it seems like any of the following will work: vegetable, olive, or peanut.  We used basic canola oil.  It needs to be heated to a temp of about 175 degrees Farenheit, but you’ll want to adjust this up or down 5-10 degrees based on a little trial and error.  Please, if you try this yourself, take proper precautions necessary when heating cooking oil – heat slowly, use a deep pot, have an accurate thermometer, and keep a damp cloth nearby to suffocate smoke or fire, should one threaten to break out. 

Wash and peel potatoes, and cut as thin as possible.  This took forever, since I don’t have a handy-dandy kitchen tool known as a mandolin.  Thinner cuts are practically required for this recipe – we cut both paper-thin and thicker slices of potatoes, and the thinner slices definitely worked the best. 

Homemade potato chips frying on the stove.

Homemade potato chips frying on the stove.

The end result?  The chips were really tasty, especially hot off the stove.  They tasted like chips that come from a bag, nice and crunchy/greasy.  But, they didn’t hold up very long (probably a lack of the preservatives stuffed into store-bought varieties).  Even in a Tupperware container, the chips were soft and fold-able within 24 hours.

The end result.

The end result.

Tortilla Chips: While we were at it, we also tried frying some tortilla chips.  These were much simpler.  The setup was the same.  To make chips, cut corn tortillas into quarters and fry.  These were excellent, really fast, and I still have some in a container in my pantry.  They’ve lasted for several days without going stale or losing flavor.  We’ll definitely make these again.

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Homemade tortilla chips.

Crackers:  We’ve been wanting Saltine crackers for awhile now, for crackers and peanut butter or to eat in chili.  We can sometimes find crackers in bulk, but not always.  So, I looked up a recipe online and gave it a shot.  All my research shows that cracker-baking should be exceptionally easy.  Even Joy of Cooking doesn’t bother to give recipes, it’s so simple – just pick a dough, roll it out really thin, and bake for 10 minutes in a hot oven (425 degrees-ish).  Ha.  My crackers turned out okay, but the recipe I found certainly isn’t something I’ll use again.  The dough was too salty, and the crackers turned stale really quickly.  If anyone out there has a cracker recipe you’d like to share, I’d love to try this again.

Donuts: As if chips weren’t treat enough, we decided to make some fried donuts, too.  The dough is a basic white yeast bread, shaped into wheels and donut holes.  These are then dropped into hot oil until they puff up and turn into delicious donuts.  These were excellent – and if there’s any way to make these fresh for company (like for a brunch or the like), I’d highly recommend it.  We filled some of the donuts with strawberry jam, which was a messy process, but the end result was tasty.  They were just as good rolled in cinnamon and sugar. 

Yum!  Donuts!

Yum! Donuts!

One final note, should you wish to try this at home: Since we don’t buy paper towels anymore, I used cloth kitchen towels to drain excess oil off the chips and donuts.  If you go this garbage-free route, don’t just wash your oil-soaked towels in a normal load and throw them into a dryer.  You need to get all the oil out before washing these in a regular cycle.  For me, this process involved soaking the towels in boiling water/dish soap, rinsing with cold water/vinegar, then washing in the machine with a normal load. 

Mom and I figure that, as Michael Pollan says in “In Defense of Food,” if you want to eat junk food, you should make your own.  This is a great philosophy because it gets you back into the process of making food, instead of just consuming it.  I’d be willing to bet that, while still not technically “healthy,” our homemade chips and donuts are healthier than their store-bought counterparts.  Making these made eating them much more gratifying. 

If anyone has other recipes or suggestions for typically store-bought items I should attempt to cook, let me know.  Check back soon for more updates!

Mar 242010
 

Believe it or not, I completely forgot to update this blog yesterday!  I’m enjoying my Spring Break right now (a huge perk of being a teacher) and my mom is down visiting for the week, helping me with all my hobbies and projects I have on my to-do list.  Yesterday felt so much like a weekend that I overlooked it being Monday entirely!  I do have quite a bit to share from this past week, however, as well as some info about projects I’ll be working on this week and writing about next Monday. 

The big news from our week was participating in the twice-yearly SOLV Oregon Coast Beach Cleanup on Saturday.  If you read my post last week, we were going to have to miss the cleanup to make it to our whale watch volunteering session, but unforeseen circumstances intervened and we ended up spending our volunteer hours cleaning beaches instead.  We had a great time!  And participating in a litter cleanup both relates to our garbage project and helped remind us why we’re doing this in the first place.

We drove down to our favorite coastal town, Florence, and decided to volunteer at Heceta Beach.  My family used to vacation in a little cabin on Heceta Beach when I was a kid, so spending time here was a little like coming home.  The ocean is often one of those places where you actually can go home again.  Not much has changed since I was little, and it felt good to give something back to a place that has given me so much over the years. 

When you check in for the beach cleanup, you sign a waiver and receive a plastic garbage bag and a pair of latex gloves in return.  Then, it’s up to volunteers where and how long they spend picking up trash on the beach.  We spent an hour and a half and filled two small trash bags full of plastic junk we found on the beach.  Here are some “action” shots to help you picture our experience:

 

Here I am, picking up litter on Heceta Beach.

Here I am, picking up litter on Heceta Beach.

If you look closely, you can see the Asian writing on this piece of plastic.  It seems like a safe bet to guess that this floated across the ocean from Asia.

If you look closely, you can see the Asian writing on this piece of plastic. It seems like a safe bet to guess that this floated across the ocean from Asia.

A look inside my trash bag - all plastic.

A look inside my trash bag - all plastic.

Our hour and a half cleaning the beach helped us reaffirm our mission in designing the Green Garbage Project.  We’re not here intending to make a large political statement or to save the world.  Really, we’re just two people who care about the environment and who want to leave the world a cleaner place than we found it.  In a world where plastic is almost as common as sand on an ocean beach, we find this to be a worthwhile goal.  To us, nature should be pristine and untouched, so that each person feels like the first to walk a given stretch of beach or along a footpath in the forest. 

The trash we did find was almost entirely unidentifiable bits of plastic  – plastic tubes, plastic rope, plastic packaging.  Most was unrecognizable from its original form, likely from hours (days? weeks?) spent floating in the ocean before washing ashore.  We must remember that plastic is a material that lasts forever and does not biodegrade – instead, it breaks down into smaller and smaller particles that ultimately can wind up desecrating some beach somewhere.  If we are going to use plastic, it’s vital that it’s recycled or disposed of properly to make sure it doesn’t wind up harming wildlife or the environment.

In other news, I went ahead and chucked my Sun Chips bag into our compost bin.  The clock is starting, so we’ll see if this actually composts as advertised.

The Sun Chips bag joins the compost pile.

The Sun Chips bag joins the compost pile.

This week, Mom and I have all sorts of “pioneer-esque” activities planned, and a full account of these will be included in my next update.  Yesterday, we visited a local farm and bought a gallon of raw milk in a glass jar.  Tomorrow, we’ll be pasteurizing the milk and making cheese from it.  Today, we dug and turned over a patch of soil I’ll use for growing corn and pumpkins, and we also filled four raised garden beds with compost and soil.  We’re also starting all sorts of seeds and planting some in the garden already.  We’re also planning to mill the soap we started over the summer, do some plastic fusing/upcycling, and try our hand at making some traditionally packaged foods like chips, crackers, and donuts.  I’ll be taking pictures every step of the way, so be sure to check in next week.

Mar 162010
 

Week 36, take two – things are awfully busy here, so thanks for bearing with me.  Each month, my deadlines seem to stack up during the same week.  This week, I’m juggling the student newspaper and grading, because Spring Break starts soon! - but before I get a week off, I have to have grades turned in. 

This post, then, is about looking toward Spring Break, which I’m extra excited for this year.  My mom is driving down from Washington to spend several days with me, and we have our time all planned out with more activities than we can possibly do in the time span she’s here.  Many of these things relate quite well to the Green Garbage Project, so be sure to check in for week 38′s post (week 37 will be interesting too, as we’re volunteering as whale watchers with Oregon State Parks).  I have several little things to talk about, most of which relate to upcoming things.

If you’re an Oregon resident, you might be interested in checking out the SOLV (Stop Oregon Litter and Vandalism) Spring Beach Cleanup.  This is a volunteer event that occurs twice-yearly, once in September and once in March.  This year, the cleanup happens from 10 a.m. – 1 p.m. on Saturday, March 20.  For more information, click here.  We’d be there if it wasn’t for our prior engagement of whale watching. 

One of my major Spring Break projects will be putting in my new garden.  If you’ve followed our blog since last summer, you might remember that we moved out of one house and into another in August.  While the move was a great step for us, it was also a bummer because we had JUST installed our first garden in the forms of raised beds.  This meant dirt and lumber expenses, not to mention some hard work to get the veggie boxes built in the first place.  Well, when we decided to move, I wasn’t about to leave my raised beds behind, so I shoveled all of our lovely garden dirt/compost back out of the beds, and we took the beds with us.  They are sitting on a cement patio right now, just waiting to be refilled with dirt. 

This means, I’m excitedly planning my garden, so I must share one plant I’m particularly excited about.  I got this idea from my most recent Master Recycler newsletter.   I’m growing Loofa sponges!  Apparently, it’s somehow escaped my awareness that the loofa is actually a plant, not some form of sea sponge.  The loofa belongs in the cucumber family, and once grown can be harvested, peeled, squeezed devoid of seeds, then left to dry into a usable sponge.  How cool is that? 

We’ve struggled this year in finding garbage-free sponges, so we’re mostly using washable dish clothes.  We’ve found many biodegradable sponges for sale, but these are always wrapped in plastic.  This is a great, packaging-free sponge option – plus, when the loofa wears out, you can simply toss it outside, where it composts into the ground.

I’m a beginner here, remember, but my reading about loofas suggests that the plants are fairly easy to grow, although they have a long growing season.  If you want to grow loofas along with me, get seeds now – they can be ordered online, but I found some at my local Fred Meyer.  Mine are started in little peat pots inside.  Also, remember that these are vine plants, and the recommendation is to give them a trellis to climb.  Then, at the end of summer, if all goes as planned, my first loofah will be harvestable. 

How’s that for garbage-free?

Mar 092010
 

Chips!  Those of you who follow my blog know that, for some reason, chips have become a symbol of trashy goodness that we cannot have while living garbage free.  Not that we bought chips all that often before starting the Green Garbage Project, because Adam and I don’t agree on what type of chips we like and they’re expensive, but they were nice to have on certain occasions for snacking or parties and the like.  And while there are very few industries that I would criticize as trashy in a blanket way, the chips industry is just one of those businesses. 

Until now, that is.  Until now, we’ve stopped buying chips, except for a few special circumstances (Super Bowl party and student newspaper parties).  This means we’ve purchased maybe three bags of chips in 8 months – not too bad, really.  We can deal with these bags in one of three ways:

  • I can send the bag to Lou of Lou’s Upcycles.  Check out Lou’s Etsy page and blog to see the super-neat creations she makes from plastic packaging leftovers – think bibs and placemats and messenger bags made from chips bags and fun-sized candy bar bags. 
  • I can do my own upcycling projects, turning leftover plastic packaging into fused plastic ready to be made into bags.
  • Or, I can find a local TerraCycleBrigade and drop my chips bags off at this sort of location.  TerraCycle is another business that takes used corporate packaging and turns it into other useful products (like folders made from CapriSun pouches). 

Now, however, the Frito Lay company brings us compostable Sun Chips bags.   I’m a little skeptical about this project for reasons I’ll detail in just a moment, but let’s take a look on the bright side and recognize how encouraging this is!  A major American corporation responds to consumer pressure and makes a previously disposable package into something that can, in theory, return to the Earth.   There is no other chip company on the market that makes bags out of anything other than landfill-destined materials – trust me, I’ve looked.  Even environmentally friendly companies like Kettle Chips can’t find ways to make green chip packaging, as is clear in this statement from the company’s Web site:

  • “We’d love to one day make our packaging even more sustainable, like we’ve done in nearly every other part of our business. Currently, though, there are no packaging materials on the market that meet our high standards for protecting the quality and freshness of our product all the way to your favorite chip bowl. However, we are continually on the lookout for recyclable, compostable or biodegradable materials that can be incorporated into our bags. As technological advances allow for more sustainable packaging choices that work for us, we hope to be on the leading edge of those exciting trends as well.”

That Frito-Lay took the time, money, research, and effort to produce such a product speaks volumes about the power of the green movement.  And hey – if a chip bag is now compostable, what’s next?  It’s ever important that we, as consumers, push manufacturers to give us green alternatives to mainstream, environmentally damaging products.

That said, I’ve alluded to the fact that I’m still cautious about endorsing this product before I give it a test run in my home compost pile.  All sorts of pseduo-plastic products are being made from plant sources these days – to-go silverware, cold drink cups, to-go containers, etc.  The problem is, these so-called biodegradable products don’t prove to be as perfect an environmental solution as we could have hoped.  There are a couple of problems with this technology:

  • A lot of compostable plastics need to end up in a high-heat industrial compost facility in order to break down. 
  • When compostable plastics wind up in a landfill, as they do more often than not, they don’t necessarily biodegrade.  As William Rathje’s team found during its archeology of garbage studies, many biodegradable materials do not break down inside landfills because they are not exposed to sunlight or air.  Other studies have found things like lettuce and paper buried for years without the slightest evidence of biodegradation. 
  • Compostable plastics increase our reliance on corn, a super crop that ends up in all sorts of products.  There is some worry that relying so heavily on only a few crops could spell disaster for our food system should something happen to compromise one of our most important food crops.  (This is a big issue – check out Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle for a full explanation and an extremely interesting read). 
  • Finally, I have a concern that making a compostable chip bag ignores the elephant in the room – this is a product that is not truly sustainable, no matter how we slice it.  It’s still produced by a large corporation, in a factory, and shipped many miles to reach us.  True sustainability means a change in the system, not in the end result.

I am encouraged by the claim that the Sun Chips bags are compostable in a hot, active home compost pile.  This means I can see the bag break down in my own backyard – and if I can see this happen without the aid of an industrial compost facility, I’ll be a believer in this product.  Right now, our compost pile is functioning, but not at full capacity given the cool weather.  As soon as we finish our first bag of chips in months, the bag will go into the pile, and the clock will start ticking.  I’ll let you know how it turns out.

Mar 022010
 

Our past week has been pleasant, though a bit uneventful in the garbage-free area.  We celebrated my grandparents’ 55th wedding anniversary on Saturday, and on Sunday I got a chance to go ice skating for the first time in many months (I used to skate pretty seriously, but down here in Oregon, I’m at least an hour away from the nearest rink).  We also tried out a new water aerobics class, and I spent a lot of time at school helping with after school activities.  So with all that happening, we didn’t think much about our garbage project. 

In spite of this, I do have a couple points of interest for Salem-area readers:

  • In Marion County, the Friends of Straub Environmental Learning Council is now accepting registration for its latest Climate Masters class.  I don’t know a whole ton about this, but it appears quite similar to the Master Recycling program I’m involved in – 30 hours of class work and 30 hours of volunteering, and you are a Climate Master.  Not sure yet if I’m signing up, but I’m told registration forms need to be submitted by March 5 (Friday).  If interested, go to www.fselc.org 
  • Also, while I can’t benefit from this, I wanted to pass along a neat Web site I found listing United States dairies that still offer milk in reusable, returnable glass bottles: http://www.mindfully.org/Plastic/Dairies-Glass-Bottles-Milk.htm  The only local dairy I could find is Noris Dairy, which serves the Portland and Willamette Valley area, but unfortunately won’t deliver to my town.  While this dairy is not garbage-free, they do deliver milk, yogurt, and cheese right to your front door.  This seems like a neat service, and I’m bummed I can’t take advantage of it.  I guess the hope is that more people start requesting this sort of service, and maybe eventually it will work its way out to my neck of the woods.  In the meantime, the office manager of Noris Dairy, Dani, sent me an email explaining that milk in glass bottles is carried at a place called EZ Orchards.  I haven’t checked this out yet, but will be soon.

I have also been working with my newly founded Green Club at school.  We’ve had three meetings so far, meeting each week on Monday.  I’m pretty excited about the direction this club is headed, but I’m hoping all my readers can help me brainstorm, too.  Right now, we’re planning an Earth Week to correspond with Earth Day on April 22.  The Earth Week will hopefully entail all the things a normal spirit week at a high school would entail – dress up days, an assembly, and lunchtime activities.  It’s the last item on that list that I’m looking for feedback on.  We’re hoping to engage students in one lunchtime activity a day for a week, but this means I need to come up with five quick (less than a half hour) and meaningful activities that both appeal to teenagers and sent a positive environmental message.  Any thoughts?  So far, we’ve come up with:

  • Decorating paper bags from the local grocery store with Earth Day/green messages, and having the store hand these out on Earth Day.
  • Devising a “spin the wheel” game with environmental trivia and prizes.
  • A planting table, where students can pick a seed and plant it in a biodegradable container to take home.
  • And, a chance to take the footprint quiz at myfootprint.org, to see how environmentally friendly their lives are.

That’s only four ideas, though, and we’re not committed to any of these just yet.  If anyone has any ideas, I’d love to hear them!  (Oh, and I should mention our small, small budget)….

Have a happy, Earth friendly week!

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