Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Trash time

So it's been about 3 weeks since I started this blog which means it's been about the same period of time since we changed our kitchen trash can last. We do have a sort of small trash can, it fits inside the cabinet next to the compost bucket. I was really thinking that it's a bit silly to have the trash can be larger than the compost bucket when most of our waste is food waste. We dump the compost maybe 3 or 4 times a week but we are currently looking at 3 weeks for changing the trash bag. My hope is that as we weed out most of the plastic packaged stuff in the house, we will be looking at changing the trash much less than that.
Here is our trash consumptions since starting this journey:

I can see signs of stuff that we no longer buy in this trash bag, so it gives me some hope that we will have less to offer our trash bag this month. I also know that some of this trash wasn't ours - people who came to our house and I didn't have the heart to ask them to take their trash with them, even though at least one of them asked if they should (that was a disposable diaper).

I even had to change our trash pick up. That big blue trash can outside would take a really long time to fill up at the rate that we are moving towards reducing our trash. I certainly don't want to pay for regular pick up... I think we are looking at just dropping the service all together at this point.

Here are some great facts that might make you want to cut back even more on adding to our landfills.

And for something totally off subject, I took another photo of my fridge tonight because at least a few of you found it interesting to see what was in there. I'll be honest, I kind of like seeing photos of other people's fridges too. No idea why.

Actually, this picture is kind of funny now that I look at it here. One sip of milk, one piece of shrimp, a tiny bit of iced coffee left... There's lots of other stuff that you can't see in this photo, but the good news is that we have consistently been able to see the back of our fridge and I know everything that is in there right now.

In the next few weeks we will be going strawberry picking at Thompson-Finch farm and I just purchased some of these awesome airtight stainless steel containers so that we can freeze without plastic! I'm sure I will post when they arrive... at least about the package that they will come in because I will have to figure out what to do with it - this is my first real non food purchase that is new since working on eliminating waste, however, I also bought a (non plastic) watering can today so that we can water our garden plants. Both purchases involved conscious decision making based on the company that sold them.

How silly to be so excited about containers.


Sometimes I forget about that 4th "R".
We all know about the 3 "R"s: Reduce, Reuse and Recycle... but I always forget to point out the 4th "R": Refuse.
It's not that I forget to do it - quite the contrary, I refuse things all of the time... ok, I didn't refuse those plastic straws for our glasses a few nights ago, but I'm working on it... But in general, I can refuse free things now. I used to take free things, well, because they were free. You can always make use of something, right? I don't know anymore... I just think that a lot of the free stuff these days might be better off refused by all of us. That way, they might stop offering it if they know that people aren't interested in taking whatever it is (plastic pens, plastic frisbees, etc).

But what do you do if you can't refuse?

Well, this story is one that I don't know all of the details to so I'm going to keep it short. (This means that I don't know how we ended up with the free stuff).

Today, my partner was going to take us all to Lime Rock to see one of his artist/clients sing the national anthem at the opening ceremony for the car races. I really wasn't up for going - I wanted to go and show my support but I just wasn't into the idea of the hot, crowded race track experience. In the end I bailed and my partner took our 4 year old while I took my older 2 kids to a local swimming hole and then to a staff memorial day party (they met us there soon after the singing was done). Anyhow, I knew that they were going to be thirsty and hungry at the race track and I didn't want them to have to buy anything there so I packed them up a big bottle of cold water in my klean kanteen water bottle and filled 2 snack taxi bags with some popcorn and threw in an apple. Luckily it was just enough for their 3 hour adventure, but when I went to empty the bag out tonight when we all got home, there was some interesting stuff in that bag: some cardboard trash from a car that my 4 year old received from someone, and a big long sticker representing some kind of tire company. When I inquired about the sticker (the toy car I understood, plus it didn't really have any plastic packaging and they brought home the cardboard to recycle), it seemed like it could have easily been refused but it was busy and crowded and they just ended up with it.

What a perfect opportunity in the future to teach kids how to refuse free stuff. It's so easy to point out "but we don't need that" to a child and help show them how to choose not to take something that's free. It will filter over into their buying habits as adults - to choose not to buy something just because it's on sale is a powerful thing to have control over.

The free sticker is something that will be easier to avoid next time, but this time I was left with the challenge of what to do with it. I looked at it for a few minutes and realized that I could cut it up and offer some of it to my oldest son, who likes to decorate his school binder with stickers. At first I gave him the "YO" and then I noticed that his initials were there too "ES", so I gave him that as well. These were all of the letters that I was left with, which I found a nice home for on our compost bucket:

I still had the label trash from the sticker but I felt a little better cutting up the tire company sticker and reusing it.

The other thing that we all refused today as a family was the paper plates and plastic cups at the party that we went to. I simply packed our picnic basket with plates, bowls, utensils and cups so that we would have everything that we needed to avoid disposable products. My family was great to use what I brought and we successfully avoided adding to the waste, with the exception of a few recyclable cans of spritzers that were consumed. This was pretty easy and I highly suggest it. Maybe if we all showed up to picnics with our own plates and utensils, people would start being able to eliminate the paper plates and plastic utensils and even the disposable cups.

Wouldn't that be great?

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Eating out


So, two nights ago we decided to go out to eat. Yes, I know that I said we were broke but we sold our car yesterday so we decided to treat ourselves - partially because we didn't have much to eat in the house that was quick and easy (it's was a long day off) and I really did't want to go shop where I was taking my day off from... but also because we never eat out and it's such a treat. We went to a great local BBQ place, which was fantastic as always. We chose them because we feel good about how much they are forerunners in our community as a business that supports local and consciously sells good quality product. Plus, the people that own the restaurant have a child at Kinderhof, where my youngest child goes to school, so we naturally want a chance to support them.

We sat down and I looked around, wondering if going out to eat was really a good idea. Paper napkins, plastic straws... this was a new challenge. No sooner did we sit down when we were served water - glasses with plastic straws for us adults and a plastic take home cup for the one kid that we had with us. I stared at the cup for a few moments before I could process it and, consequently, missed my chance to send it back. I had to think about what might happen if we refused the cup - whether or not they would just reuse it and give it to someone else who would possibly ask for it anyway if given the choice, or if it would get thrown away or recycled. Then I had to think about whether or not we would take it home when we were done eating, since we had obviously committed to accepting the cup of water by now, or if we would leave it behind. And if we left it behind, what would happen to it?

Ok so note to self: when first sitting down at a restaurant, inform waitperson that we don't want to use any disposable products during our visit, unless absolutely necessary (like in the case with paper napkins at a BBQ restaurant). However, we can opt out of using straws... we don't need them and the restaurant could save a little money not using them for everybody (ok, not a lot but whatever).

I'm happy to say that this was the toughest part of the adventure in this particular restaurant (hooray!) - however, when we were driving to the restaurant and we were halfway there, I realized that we had forgotten our to-go containers for left overs. I kid you not, we almost turned back to get something. I knew we weren't going to eat everything we bought, we never have from this restaurant... but we decided that we would just have to eat everything that we ordered so there would be nothing left over (this was helpful because we ordered less then we might have if we had let our stomachs do the deciding).

At one point in our visit, we had a conversation with the owner. I told him about what we were doing and how we were trying to eliminate waste and disposable things from our live. He was really understanding and apologetic for the plastic kid cup. This guy is really trying and doing such a great job that I certainly wasn't aiming to have an issue with him. (I hope he doesn't think so!) But it definitely got me thinking about how hard it must be to own a business, especially a restaurant, and try to reduce waste. He was talking about just trying to get the kitchen to compost being a challenge...

Anyway, we finished our dinner and all of it was delicious as always, and we had almost no more issues with disposable products. Ok, well the waitress did deliver extra napkins and little wipes, but we left them on the table untouched so that they could be reused.

And then, we were stuffed.
And guess what? We didn't eat everything.

We stared at the food thinking about what to do with it since our to-go containers were sitting at home. Then we asked the waitress to ask the owner if we could borrow something to take the leftovers home in... and he agreed! So cool. No disposable to-go containers for us... But next time this won't happen. We talked about needing to be better prepared - I am thinking of having some containers that I can always keep in the car, so that I can have them whenever needed... not that we ever eat out, but we need to be ready for anything.

We will be returning the carrying device back to the restaurant tomorrow.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Thinking positively

I have been working on my positive thinking and putting things into perspective. I frequently am trying to put things into perspective throughout the day without offending people... some people can't handle it so they simple don't hear it, but those that need it appreciate it I think.

For example, someone told me that I looked tired the other day... and I was truly exhausted. Instead of moaning and complaining about it, I acknowledged it. Then I looked down at the newspaper they were buying and I said, I am exhausted but at least my house didn't get taken away by a tornado.
Now, I know that may sound extreme, but I need the reality check. This week has been my own personal whirlwind: I'm working a 50 - 60 hour work week, my partner has been working non stop trying to finish an album, the kids still have to get to and from school every day, we bought a new (used) car and are trying to sell the one that we are replacing, one of our cars got a flat tire... and to top it all off, we happen to be really broke this week.
See? My own personal whirlwind.
BUT look at what I have: a home, lots of good food to eat (even if we are looking through the back of the pantry for it), a great family, sweet kids (well you know what I mean), a good job, we live in a great community, the winter is over, etc etc. And, my house didn't get taken away in a tornado. Put like that, things are pretty damn good.

When you start giving in to the positive thinking, it becomes contagious. I can think about how today is my day off (serious hooray there) and how last night when I went out for a drink, someone said that I look 20 years old (really?), and how today is going to be beautiful out and I can go lay on a blanket with a picnic at the Steiner school were my daughter is having her Olympiad. Oh, let's not forget how happy I am that I'm not sore at all today from hiking Monument Mountain yesterday. See, I could look around my house and think of all of the things that have to get done and start stressing about them... laundry to wash, months of cleaning to catch up on (seriously, months), sheets to change, a car to clean out before I sell it... but I would SO much rather think of lying on that blanket and eating yummy food and watching kids run around barefoot in togas doing olympic sports. in the sun. Doesn't that sound so much nicer?

Thinking positively is helping me when I talk to people about what I've been doing to change my family's ways as well. People are quick to criticize, but it's not really me that they are criticizing I realize, it's really them having issues with themselves not doing what I'm doing. Psychology can be weird some times... I find myself easing the skepticism that people have around what I'm doing. Is it really that suspicious? One person said that I'm not really eliminating packaging because the bulk items come in a package before they get put into the bulk bins... yes, this is very true and I am aware of this (I do work at a co-op and have filled some bulk bins once or twice myself). Now come on, does anyone really think that is the same as just buying some rice in a plastic bag already packaged off the shelf? But it's all ok, people are aloud to think and feel what they want and I'm not going to take it personally. I simply explained that I don't mind sharing packaging with lots of others so that we have full bulk bins and that my real goal is to eliminate and reduce within my home and what I buy directly. Even last night I refused the cocktail napkin and asked to keep my already received plastic stirring straw for the next drink (I was too late for the first drink). This may sound silly to some, but it's just becoming a mindset for me. People are open to it and even appreciate that I care enough to ask. Are cocktail napkins even really necessary? Not really and most people just don't care - I'll be honest, I almost don't care about them myself. So if that's the case, then why the heck would I need or want one? Ok, maybe I'm dwelling here, but the cocktail napkin could represent a many number of items offered atomically to you on a daily basis. Imagine if we all starting politely refusing these things? Bags, receipts, paper cups, junk mail, fliers... and yes, cocktail napkins.

Ok, I'm done.

Now I want to think about that picnic that I'm going to have today. Here is some of the yummy food we will eat:

We probably won't take the butter... but we will eat the chicken and mozzarella balls and avocado and tomatoes and amazing lettuce from my friend Jen's farm (Woven Roots) and organic grapes (just in at the co-op!)... and of course some popcorn, the ultimate bulk snack in our house.

And now, I'm going to go pack that all up and go enjoy my day!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

More changes

There are still some things that I haven't really had to deal with yet regarding eliminating or reducing waste. One of those things I will have to face any day now... it's those feminine hygiene products (this is your warning to skip this post if you don't want to read about them).

So today I took the plunge and ordered myself a diva cup. It was time.

Back when my middle girl was a newborn baby, I wanted to be environmentally friendly so I got a keeper. It was a bad decision to start using something like this so soon after my second vaginal delivery, and I kind of got scared of it so I tucked it away in a deep dark corner with the general intention to forget about it. I always figured that someday I would come back to it - and I was right... however, I didn't expect it to take so long. I still have that keeper but something tells me that I should get something new... I mean, it has been 11 years. The keeper was made from natural rubber, and I'm not sure if it is still safe to use. I did email the company and ask them if there was any chance that it was still usable, but I haven't heard from them yet (I am not counting on it still being good).

Meanwhile, I won't have enough tampons to get me through the next flow, and I didn't want to take the risk with that old keeper, so I ordered the diva cup. The more that I think and read about it, the more I wonder why it took me so long to get one! If I consider that the average woman will use about 10,000 tampons and pads in her lifetime, then I can only hope to be one less contributor of these things to our landfills now.

And let's not forget about pads and liners - there are many options here. I have some old glad rags (or maybe they are luna pads) that I still use a bit, but I need more now. So, I could check out etsy and see what other people are making and try to support them, or I could just make my own. I kind of like this idea best because I have plenty of cloth lying around and it's a no cost solution.

Here is a nice list of the alternatives that are our there for alternative and environmentally friendly menstrual products.

And let's not forget the cost savings when I no longer have to buy tampons and liners anymore... I'm looking at saving at least $100 a year.

If you are looking for more info on the diva cup, check here.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

It's getting easier

It really is.
I only bought one thing when I shopped today that I was bummed about - a gluten free baking mix that came in a plastic package. However, I justified it in my head because it means that I will be making many treats with the mix to avoid buying more packaged stuff that would be in plastic packaging. And the kids will have snacks for school or after school. I can send one of the blueberry raspberry muffins that I just made instead of a luna bar (for example) for the kids to have after school on the days they need extra snacks because they have baseball or dance or drumming. The muffin doesn't need to be in disposable packaging.
There, I feel a lot better... but obviously still a tad guilty if I just spent that much time explaining myself.

But the blueberry raspberry muffins that we made tonight were really tasty, see:
Yes, that's me eating a muffin (no jokes please, or I may never post another picture of myself).

Anyway, moving on.

Here is what I bought for dinner tonight:

(Obviously I didn't buy the kid, he just really likes to pose with food).
That's some really tasty homemade salad dressing in the bottle on the left - I didn't buy that either.

And here was the simple and quick salad that I made from the above ingredients after my long day at work:

So now when I am hungry, I really have to think - not only about what I want, but also about what will satisfy me without buying something in a package. This can be more difficult than you think when you work all the time in a store that sells it's fair share of packaged products. I tend to eat a lot more from the hot bar and salad bar... which is good when I think about it because I used to just snack more throughout the day and now I will just eat a meal.
This also goes for meal planning with my family though. We certainly have more limitations now in terms of what to make for dinner. Due to my overly busy schedule and the gluten free diet for some of us and the minimal package all around... and I imagine that most would see that as impossible (people say that to me) or just too much to deal with. I certainly get that, but since this is what is holding me together right now and giving me inspiration, I see it as an enjoyable challenge instead. Sometimes I just walk around with a jar in my hand, wondering what I could put in it that I could create a meal out  of.

Tonight it was shrimp and local lettuce (yea for local stuff coming in!) and an avocado and a really ripe tomato. And it was really good and satisfying.


One thing that made me feel good today that required no thought: One of my employees was dealing with trash and recycling and came to take away what was at the desk that I was sitting at. He said to me "you have been the only one sitting at this desk all day and you created absolutely no trash". I thought to myself, why would I have trash? And then I realized that this was just getting easier...

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Eating and buying locally

Everyone is talking about it but how much are we actually doing it? If you are given the choice between a local product or a similar product that costs a little bit less, which do you choose?

And since I'm asking these questions, what is it that we need to convince us to choose the local product that might cost a little bit more money?

Back in 2005 when local buying became a movement, people who shopped locally where given the title "locavore". According to this article, the locavore phenomenon brings up several important concerns including: food miles, chemically grown food, greenhouse gas emissions, factory farming, genetically engineered animal feed, and the value of organic labeling. I'm not going to go too much into some of this, but I encourage you to follow up if you can. It is all important stuff to consider when you use your dollar to vote.

In terms of buying local products, I know that for me, knowing the people who grow the food is a huge help. I am much more likely to want to give my hard earned money directly (or indirectly if their product is in a store) to someone that I have met instead of giving it to someone that I haven't.
For example, today I went to the farmer's market (yes, it's already open, check it out!) and bought more of the delicious sheep cheese that we got last week. The guy was really great and remembered me because I wanted my cheese in a jar and didn't want to waste any wrapping. His farm is called 3 Corner Field Farm. Here he is happy to accommodate me:
I'm sorry that I don't remember his name, I hope he understands.

One thing to note about taking your own packaging when shopping is that there is sometimes a concern about whether or not the business or seller is allowed to put something directly in your jar (or whatever you use), it is an issue of sanitation. I am very aware of this because I happened to be ServSafe certified, so I make it clear that they can just hand the product to me and I'm happy to put it in my jar myself.

Here is an interesting bit of random info for you (according to local harvest) - only 18 cents of every dollar, when buying at a large supermarket, go to the grower... and 82 cents go to various unnecessary middlemen.

And if you are looking for more, here are 10 great reasons to eat locally, taken from the Berkshire Grown website:

Locally grown food tastes and looks better.

Crops marketed close to home are picked at their peak and usually sold within 24 hours of harvesting. Food imported from far away must travel on trucks or planes and then it is stored in warehouses.

Local food is better for you.

The shorter the time between the farm and your table, the less likely it is that nutrients will be lost from fresh food. Most fresh produce loses much of its nutritional value within 48 hours of harvesting.

Local food is safer.

With all the issues related to food safety and homeland security, there’s an assurance that comes from looking a farmer in the eye at the farmers’ market, or driving by the fields where our food comes from.

Local food supports local families.

Local farmers who sell directly to consumers cut out the middleman and can get full retail price for their food – which helps farm families to be able to afford to continue farming their land.

Local Food builds community.

When you buy direct from a farmer, you’re engaging in a time-honored connection between eater and grower and you’re supporting a local business. Getting to know folks who grow your food helps you know more about the place you live.

Local food preserves open space.

When farmers get paid more for their products by nearby shoppers, they’re less likely to sell farmland for development.

Local food keeps taxes down.

According to several studies, farms contribute more in taxes than they require in services, whereas most residential development contributes less in taxes than the cost of required services.

Local food benefits the environment and wildlife.

Farmers are leaders in the use of environmentally sound growing practices. Our farms encompass a patchwork of fields, meadows, woods, streams, and ponds that provide essential habitat for wildlife.

Local food is an investment in our future.

When you buy locally grown food, you’re helping to preserve the strength and character of our community for our children and grandchildren.

Local food preserves genetic diversity.

In industrial agriculture, plants are bred for their ability to ripen uniformly, withstand harvesting, survive packing and last a long time on the shelf, so there are only a few varieties in large-scale production. This leaves our food supply vulnerable to disease or disaster. Smaller local farms, in contrast, often grow many different varieties to provide a longer season, an array of colors, and the best flavors.

Looking for more ways to buy local? Check out this site for more ideas.

Lastly, here is another great thing that is happening in my community at some local restaurants: it's a weekend of farmed and foraged foods! If you have the time and money, consider checking it out at your favorite participating restaurant. Personally, if I had a few extra dollars and I wasn't busy working at one of the participating locations, I would totally go to Route 7 Grill to partake.
Oh well, maybe next time.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Snack packages

If you have seen me in the snack section at the co-op lately, then you know that I am seriously struggling with the packaging of snack foods. Specifically the packaging of the good all natural snacks that my family and I love to eat, things like organic pretzels and potato chips.

See, I'm looking for a good company who can do more: I'm looking for a compostable bag around my potato chips.

Sunchips made a biodegradable bag for their product a few years ago, but it was apparently too noisy for their customers. They seriously ditched the bag and went back to the old packaging because of how noisy it was... but it seems that they have been working really hard trying to come up with an alternative to the rigid jet engine sounding bag.

What I'm looking for one of the more environmentally friendly companies that make snacks to step up to the plate and prove themselves to me - prove that you are THAT worth it for me to buy your products.

I've been poking around for weeks now and I finally came across something that I can work with: Boulder Canyon chips. Check them out - they totally have an option for buying their product in compostable packaging! I immediately put in my request to our grocery manager to bring in this option at our store (actually, it was more like begging than requesting). If this product interests you, consider putting in a request at the store(s) that you shop at. More interest in the product because of it's packaging can only encourage more packaging of it's kind. Imagine how cool it wold be if most of the snacks that we bought were in compostable or biodegradable packaging...

Do you know of any other companies/products that have compostable or biodegradable snack packages?? If so, please share!

BLT Maki

Totally on the side, I can't quite figure out why no one has ever made BLT maki before. And if they have, I can't figure out why they kept it a secret from me.
I made it tonight for dinner and it was so. fan. tast. ic.
Bacon, lettuce and tomato wrapped up in nori with some sushi rice.

Jut do it. And if you don't eat meat, go get some of that tempeh fakin bacon and make that in place of bacon.

And just so we are clear, there was only one plate of bacon maki, the closer one (bacon is special and appreciated so we try not to over consume... and we have at least one vegetarian in the house). The other plate had cucumbers, carrots and lettuce maki. And the two uncut rolls were the kids lunch for tomorrow.

Try it!!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011


I like coffee.
As in: I actually like the taste of coffee.

I drink my coffee black, something that I trained myself to do half a lifetime ago when I dabbled in macrobiotics. At that time I was in college and not willing to give up coffee for the better lifestyle so I compromised and eliminated the sugar and the milk. It took a little bit of work, but eventually I grew to really like coffee for what it was... and I will admit that I am a bit of a coffee snob now.
With the exception of a few periods of time when I was pregnant or nursing, I drink coffee everyday. However, I really only like good fair trade coffee that I buy in bulk and grind fresh everyday. This makes it difficult when we travel, and sometimes I choose to just go without coffee when I can't get good stuff. See, I'm a coffee snob.

We make our coffee every day at home and take it with us if we leave (I do most days). Not only does this save us a lot of money, but it's also easy. Here is our set up:

We buy the coffee beans and the sugar (for my partner) in bulk. We grind the beans in our handy coffee grinder and use the reusable coffee filter to avoid the paper waste. I recently read that once coffee is ground, it keeps that fresh taste for nine days, while whole beans can hold their freshly roasted flavor for 45 days. When we are done with the coffee grounds, we dump it into our compost bucket.

It's really awesome when one of us remembers to set this all up at night and set the timer to brew in the morning - there is nothing like waking up to the smell of freshly brewed coffee waiting for you.

I fill my awesome (co-op logo) insulated klean kanteen mug with coffee once it's brewed and I'm all set for the day. This mug will keep my coffee hot for many hours - I'm not sure how long because I usually don't want to wait to find out, but I do have to take the lid off for at least 15-30 minutes just to cool it down enough to drink it without burning my tongue (remember that black coffee is hotter than coffee with milk added).

I came across this video that talks about eco-friendly coffee making - interestingly, she has the exact same coffee maker that we do.

Not convinced about coffee drinking? Consider the health benefits.

Still not convinced? Consider the cost benefits of brewing your own coffee at home (funny enough, the guys in this video ALSO has the same coffee maker that we do).

Give it a shot - make some coffee at home... but if you just can't make it work then at the very least consider taking a reusable mug with you when you go out to buy coffee from somewhere else... and don't forget to support your local coffee shops and/or sellers of fair trade and organic coffees.


Sunday, May 15, 2011

Bulk Shopping

I had a great time shopping for food today. I feel like I am getting closer to my goal of eliminating packaging from what we buy... and it's inspiring! Here is a picture of my youngest posing with all of the stuff that I bought today that required no new packaging:
What you see here: bacon, sugar, shredded coconut, black olives, corn grits, almonds, popcorn, brown rice, cashews, dish soap, canola oil, mushrooms, lettuce, cukes, apples, kiwis, limes, oranges and coffee (in the charlie brown christmas bag). 

And while I'm thinking of it, here is our delicious cheese score from the farmers market yesterday, I can't remember what it's called, but it's a delicious one year old sheep cheese of some sort:

The benefits of buying in bulk are great. You can save money and limit the packaging all at once.
Here are some great facts about bulk buying:

Bulk Food Facts

FACT: Bulk foods provide a savings to the consumer of 30% to 60%. Packaging and promotion can be a significant contributor to food cost.
FACT: Bulk goods require less overall transportation to deliver to consumers. Bulk foods do not require the packaging components that must be produced and transported prior to being filled. And the transportation of bulk product to retailers is efficient because it can be packed more densely on a truck.
FACT: The manufacture of paper and cardboard pulls trees from our forests, dumps contaminated water into our streams and uses enormous amounts of energy resulting in grotesque levels of CO2 emissions pumped into our atmosphere.
FACT: Food packaging may limit a consumer’s ability to buy in quantities desired which can result in food surplus and ultimately waste.
FACT: Although most natural food companies sell their food products in recyclable packaging, there are still some food companies that use non-recyclable materials. And some consumers choose not to recycle which creates additional burden in our country's landfills.
FACT: Packaging often limits a consumer’s ability to actually see the product they are buying.
FACT: In a grocery store, packaged products require more labor to ensure fresh product. Shelves must constantly be rearranged.
FACT: With bulk, product density at the store level can be significantly higher. So stores can provide a wider variety of foods in the same space.

Here  is some more interesting information about food packaging.

One more thing that I can't help but share - I made another fantastic gluten free pizza for us for dinner tonight. This one had fresh mozzarella, sauteed mushrooms, broccoli, black olives and bacon... mmmmm.

The gluten free thing for Lucas has been a bit of a challenge... mostly because of packaging. This delicious millet flax pizza crust is quite fantastic - the only issue is the plastic wrapper that it comes in. I am going to have to start making this crust from scratch if I want to avoid the plastic... but meanwhile, it's part of the very minimal packaged products that I am buying. Almost everything else, however, was purchased without packaging (with exception to the pizza sauce... for now).

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Food Waste

Here is something else to think about: are we wasting too much food? I wonder this myself and have been thinking a lot more about this the past few weeks. This morning I read this article that talked about how the average American throws away 253 pounds of food each year. Each year! Think about it - that is a lot of food. Nearly one third of food produced for human consumption globally is lost or wasted every year. That translates to 1.3 billion tons of food – the weight of 3,400 Golden Gate Bridges – going to waste each year! And with that comes all the wasted energy, water, chemicals, and labor that go into producing, transporting, and storing that food. In developing countries, only ("only") 13-24 pounds are wasted each year - quite a difference... If you want to follow up some more, here is an interesting blog by Jonathan Bloom about wasted food. Consider reading more to figure out how you can stop wasting food.

When I recently cleaned out my fridge in the big spring fridge cleaning of 2011, there was a lot of food in there that just wasn't edible anymore. I composted almost everything that was bad and cleaned the heck out of that fridge, but it still bummed me out. That bad food was all wasted and there was nothing that I could do about it at that point. It could have fed us and saved us money if we had just not bought more food to fill the space in front of it in the fridge, blocking it from our view and forcing it to be less appealing than the newer, fresher stuff.

So moving forward, I will make sure this happens no more. Worse case scenario, we will feed the food that is almost bad or destined to be ignored to our very lucky (and healthy) dog, Rocco.

Here is a picture of our fridge today:
The idea is that everything in the fridge is edible and appealing... with the semi-exception of condiments, which are only really appealing when you need them. (If you want to know about anything in my fridge, just ask because I have recipes! However, I'm not sure that this photo gives justice to some of the delicious zero waste treats in my fridge...)

So let me ask you this: are you conscious and comfortable with the amount of food that you and your family waste? I certainly am not happy with some of the food waste that happens in my house, but I like to think that my growing consciousness of it will eventually help to seriously eliminate the majority of it. 

If you have any good ideas or suggestions about how to help eliminate food waste, please share!

Friday, May 13, 2011

Ecological Footprint

Have you ever considered your ecological footprint? If you're not sure what that is, it's basically the environmental impact of your life and the way you live. Here some interesting facts, taken from the Global Living Project:
  • How much Earth is there?
    126 billion acres
  • Amount of Earth covered by low bio-productive oceans, deserts, ice caps, and human settlement?
    97 billion acres
  • How much bio-productive land and sea exists?
    29 billion acres
  • Current human population?
    6.4 billion
  • How much exists per person today?
    4.5 acres
  • How much is available per person if we leave 75% wild for the 25 million other species on Earth?
    1 acre
  • How much do humans on average use globally?
    5.8 acres     
Also interesting is the average ecological footprint around the world:
  • United States - 24 acres
  • Canada - 22 acres
  • United Kingdom - 13 acres
  • Russian Federation - 11 acres
  • Mexico - 6 acres
  • World Average - 5.6 acres
  • Personal Planetoid - 4.5 acres
  • China - 4 acres
  • GLP - 3.2 acres (summer) and 4 acres (winter)
  • Iraq – 3 acres
  • India - 2 acres
  • Bangladesh - 1 acre
  • Inter-species equity (75 percent wild) - 1 acre
  • Afghanistan – 0.75 acres
 Check out your ecological footprint.

Thursday, May 12, 2011


So I guess we haven't been very interested in our mail lately. I just went to my mailbox and there was a lot in it. Not as much as there could have been for close to a weeks worth of mail, but still too much.

So this is what I did.

I started by sorting junk from "important" mail. I weeded out the things that I see on a regular basis - in this case it was a sierra trading post catalog, an online shoes catalog and yet another offer from capital one to give me a credit card. I went to their websites and sent emails to them to tell them to stop sending me paper mail. Then, I put it into the recycling bin. Again.

I will continue to do this each week when I sort through the mail, and I want to encourage everyone to do the same. Wouldn't it be nice if eventually we only got the few pieces of mail that we really need and nothing else? The amount of energy, resources and money used in producing unwanted mail is mind boggling.

For more info about how to handle unwanted mail, go here.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011


It's the one thing that I just can't get under: Laundry. I want to wash every non-clean article of clothing and sheets and towels and napkins, etc. in the house and then get rid of things that we aren't wearing or using, for whatever reason. I want the rest then folded and put away in drawers. But that would take a few days of solid work in this house and I simply don't have that time. And it's frustrating because I might get them washed and even dried, and EVEN folded... but then they don't make it in drawers. SO irritating.

However, the last time that I had a day off, it was the most perfect line drying day that spring could offer. The wind in combination with the sun made the clothes dry so fast! It made me remember why I love hanging clothes on the line and avoiding the use of the dryer and how much energy it uses.
I love the clothes line.

Today I will have a few hours before I go in to work and laundry will be one of my tasks... after I go to the eye doctor. And here we have another one of my hurdles: contacts. Plastic contacts that require a saline solution sold in a plastic bottle. I know that I could just where glasses, but I like not wearing glasses. This requires a bit more research (can I make my own saline solution?) and I will report back once I come up with something.

But let's get back to the laundry part of this post, but specifically the things I find piling up in my laundry (both clean and dirty), things like cloth napkins. Cloth napkins are truly one of the easiest things to have around.  You can buy them at a second hand store or make them from fabric or old clothes that you have lying around. Not feeling crafty? Try this. And while you are at it, you can make place mats, dish towels and even hankies. Why not? These things also make fantastic gifts, especially if you have a friend that has recently moved and could use a house warming gift.

We have successfully not bought any paper products for years, with the exception of toilet paper (which I will now only buy 100% recycled in a paper wrapper, no more plastic). It's not something that I think about too much because we already do this, but it is something to consider when I wonder why I can't get under my laundry load. However, this is all manageable. I will get a hold of our laundry sometime this month (I know that's a crazy long goal, but remember, I work a lot - currently 6 days a week).

Now, I'm off to start the next load of laundry and then drive someone to school, then go to the eye doctor, then back home to hang my laundry and then hopefully I can get in a hike before I go to work. Wish me luck!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Less is More

It's already getting easier to shop. There is a real change of mindset here - I really have to force myself to ignore some things that are on sale or just look good when I am shopping for food... which is frequently since I work in a grocery store. This is a really good test for me because I have yet to need something other than food. I find myself not wanting to go in any stores, actually. I admit that I used to run to the dollar store every now and then for the simple and cheap thing... but now I have no interest. I now wonder what else I can use instead of going to a store or if I can get it used from somewhere. When I see food in the grocery store, I wonder how I can get it without the packaging. It definitely some good takes planning - I have to take jars with me to work in case an opportunity arises to get cheese or other bulk packaged items before they get put in plastic packaging.

Here was what was successful when I shopped today:
What's missing are the 2 boxes of soy milk that I bought. I'm working on that one.

Produce is great in mesh bags but I am finding that when I get home, I put them in old recycled plastic bags because they last longer in the fridge that way. Does any one have a better or alternative solution to the plastic bags to keep produce fresh?

The other thing that I bought today was this:
A case of biodegradable trash bags. This is A LOT of trash bags for us, especially since we are aiming to cut down to one trash bag a month (at the most). My thought with the trash bags is that if there happens to be something in the trash that might break down (biodegrade), it never will if it is mummified in a plastic bag that takes 1000 years to break down. In a biodegradable bag, at least in a year or two, things that can break down will. It's not ideal but it is something.
By the way, this really is a ridiculous amount of trash bags for us - 12 boxes with 15 bags per box. If we make our goal then that is like 15 years worth of trash bags. Luckily, I think a few people will buy a box or two from me and take them off my hands.

And now let me leave you with the reason for the title of this post: Less is More.

LESS junk food, MORE nutrients.
LESS car trips, MORE exercise.
LESS sweets, MORE weight loss.
LESS possessions, MORE space.
LESS self-pity, MORE happiness.
LESS presents, MORE appreciation.
LESS waste, MORE conservation.
LESS TV, MORE conversation.
(I did not write this, I just like it a lot)

Smoke and drink

In considering all aspects of our life, there is a lot to cover when limiting packaging and trash in our lives. Of course, we still want to enjoy life and the little pleasures that come with it... so we won't be going off the grid just yet (but when we do someday, we will have plenty of electricity to use our computers and watch movies and even run a recording studio). Meanwhile, we have been thinking of the smaller, more manageable and realistic things... thing like smoking and drinking. What? I know what you are thinking and you just might be right - we like to have a little fun. Ok, it's true that I actually have a huge issue with the smoking and I am not the one who does it. However, until a certain unnamed person chooses to quit, I need to make the best of it. So, the first step is a solution to the plastic wrapped pouches of tobacco that have previously been the staple. This is what I came up with:

If we buy a tin of tobacco then we have 4 times the amount of tobacco in one package and there is much less plastic. The tin says "printed on recycled materials", which makes me feel a tad better and the container is recyclable (or at least is a very reusable storage container). The pouch is actually a reusable snack bag that we sell at the co-op made by a company called snack taxi. I lucked out and found this nice black one and thought it would be a great replacement for the plastic wrapped/covered tobacco pouch that my partner used to buy. Luckily, he's into it too.

For now, this works.

As for the drink part, well our temporary fix for that is making sure that we are only buying in glass (and buying less). It's interesting that someone asked me today what we do about beer. The nice thing about beer is that you can usually purchase from local breweries that offer jugs (with a deposit) that can be returned to be reused. However, if you live near a brewery then consider taking a jug there and asking them to fill it for you. The ultimate goal for us is to make our own "drink"... but I will save those details for a later post since we don't even have the equipment yet. I will tell you this though: we are buying a new (very used) car soon from someone who is moving out of the country. After a very cool conversation with him, it turns out that he has some equipment to pass on for brewing some alcoholic beverages and he told me today that he will drop it off sometime this week! Hooray for upcycling and for very cool people and just for living in the Berkshires in general!

Monday, May 9, 2011


I have so much to write about what I'm doing and the things that I am learning, but I am so tired that instead of writing, I will just leave you with this plastic free guide. Check it out, there are some really good ideas on this list.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

First Steps

So, I dove into this idea of minimizing "stuff" in my life. The first and most immediate challenge was food shopping. Coincidentally, at the same time that I got the drive to make this change in my life, we had to put my youngest child on a gluten free diet. We decided that the best way to make it work for him is to eat gluten free with him, so this is yet another challenge. The biggest challenge, however, is trying to not buy all of the gluten free packaged stuff that is so easy to incorporate into our lives (and is on sale) - that is the easy way out. Right off the bat, to ease us into this process, I allowed myself 1/4 of my shopping to purchase packaged goods... this left 3/4 of my shopping to using no new packaging at all. For the packaged products that I do buy, I make sure that they are glass or paper. The glass is much more likely to end up in future packaging again if we need to recycle it, but if we keep it, the empty glass jar might make an excellent container for a certain item that I want to buy.  (But beware of the glass jar collections piling up).

For produce, I buy only the things that are not packaged. This makes me a little bummed to look at those beautiful strawberries in those plastic containers that I won't buy, but it just means that the strawberries will be even tastier when we pick them ourselves and freeze them for the year. I have some mesh produce bags (made by my sister in law - I was going to post a link to her etsy store, but it doesn't look like she is making them any more...) so I put loose produce in those. At home I have tons of recycled plastic bags, so if the produce lasts longer in the plastic bags in the the fridge, I will put them in one of those when I get home.

Bulk is easy, I just take all of my own jars (get them weighed first, usually at a register) and fill them up. I can get a lot in the bulk section at my co-op: oil, tamari (gluten free), maple syrup, honey, laundry and dish soap, rice, popcorn, sugar, salt, flour, nuts, peanut butter, coffee and so much more. It's pretty great. I just (re)discovered corn grits to make polenta - corn grits are cheap and polenta is gluten free and good! How to make it:


  • 6 cups water
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 3/4 cups yellow cornmeal (corn grits)
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter


Bring 6 cups of water to a boil in a heavy large saucepan. Add 2 teaspoons of salt. Gradually whick in the cornmeal. Reduce the heat to low and cook until the mixture thickens and the cornmeal is tender, stirring often, about 15 minutes. Turn off the heat. Add the butter, and stir until melted.

I added a step to this where I put the polenta in a baking dish and baked it for 10 minutes. Once it cools, you can just slice it up and fry it with tamari, or just eat it as it and add some tomato sauce.

I also use smaller cloth bags for grains if I don't want to lug all of those jars - cloth bags are easy to make from old clothes or cloth scraps that you might laying around. My super crafty sister in law made awsome cloth bags that she put our christmas presents in this year - I use those to shop in the bulk section as well.
Here is a picture of a portion of my pantry, recently cleaned and starting to be restocked:

Buying cheese is a bit trickier. Since I work in a grocery store, I can wait until the cheese department is packaging up a certain cheese and then take my jars over to put the cheese in it before they package it in plastic. However, if I could find good quality cheese at a local cheese counter that could avoid packaging by putting cheese directly into my jar, I would go there for sure.

Lunches are fairly easy since my kids have these cool lunch boxes (please note that I am not advertising that you buy from that link, just using it as a point of reference). Everything can go into the stainless  steel, and cleaning is really easy. Even if you leave food in there for too many days and it gets really gross, it's still washes out well and doesn't even smell! Here is an idea what some of the kids' (and my) lunches are looking like - keep in mind that we don't always have a lot of extra stainless steel containers for my lunch, so I take plastic containers to work still... but I hope to change that.

There are some things that I'm running up against, however, that are forcing me to take bigger steps. For example, What is the best way to buy our ketchup and our butter? I wrote letters to two of the companies that I know that carry ketchup (currently in plastic bottles that I don't want to buy) to find out if they had a glass bottle option... but then I found some ketchup in a glass bottle at another store at the same time that those companies sent me return emails, thanking me for the packaging suggestion. I also wrote to 4 or 5 of our favorite all natural snack companies asking them if they would consider biodegradable packaging for their products - but they also just thanked me for the packaging suggestion. I think that if more people could attempt to cut back on packaging and write to companies that they want to see making changes, then we could talk them into making those changes. It's easy - just go to the website of the company and click on "contact us"... then tell them what you think! Here is a list of the companies that i have written to so far, in case anyone wants to add to my cry for more envirnmentally friendly packaging:
Barbara's bakery
Newman's own organics
Muir glen (trying to get ketchup in glass)
RW Knudsen (trying to get recharge back in glass again)

This is just a start for the communication that we could have with companies. As a consumer, the only way to attempt to make change is to have your voice heard... so if you have a thought or suggestion or complaint about something - tell the people who make the product!

Totally separate from the food, we have started the somewhat painful process of decluttering out home. It's a slow process that takes time (especially when you work most days) but it can be done. We have started with clothes - everybody in the house needs to go through all of the clothes that they have and get rid of everything that doesn't fit them or that they realistically won't wear. For my kids, I took everything that was in good condition to a local kids consignment shop which might make us a few bucks, but more importantly it allows us to support a local business. Some of the nice clothes I gave to a friend or two for their kids - so now they won't have to buy at least some things new from the store. As for the rest of the kids clothes, I plan on dropping them off at the family center so that other local familes can make use of them for free if they need them. Stay tuned for what happens with my clothes once I get through them...

Once we get through all of the clothes in the house then we will move on to all of the books... but let's not get ahead of ourselves. The only way to tackle a big project like this is one step at a time.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Time for Change

Hi there and welcome to my blog about my progress in changing the ways of my family for a better, more simple life. If you know me then you know that this is a huge project for me - not because it's a big change that requires a lot of thinking and planning, but because I have very little extra time in my life between my full time job and my 3 kids. Ultimately, I am looking to eliminate or seriously minimize a few key things in my family's life: trash, recycling, plastic, clutter and just in general, "stuff".

Let me give you a little back ground, in case you don't know me.

I live in the Berkshires in western Massachusetts. This is important to know because the community that I live in is pretty darn conscious... for the most part. I work at a co-op, so it's a lot easier for me to make this change in my life and find support. Granted, most people roll their eyes at me but it's usually all in fun. So far, I've felt very supported and run up against minimal resistance. My hope is that more people could be inspired to do the same, but simply accepting what I'm doing is a good start.

I have 3 kids aged 4, 11 and 13. They all go to a Waldorf (Steiner) school and they currently do dance, drumming and baseball after school. The older ones are also becoming more social, so that adds a lot of driving to my list of things to do. The school that they go to is important to note because of the importance of nature in their education. This makes it easier for my kids to let our lifestyle at home filter over into their every day life, just like it's easier for me to take it to work.

We have always be environmentally conscious. What we are moving towards is the stuff that we have known needs to happen, but never really had the drive to do all the way. We compost, recycle, reuse and buy mostly only environmentally friendly things... but just a few weeks ago, I realized that we could be doing SO MUCH MORE.

It all started when I took my 13 year old to go see the documentary Bag It at the Project Native film festival. It inspired us to really start eliminating plastic from our lives. This was do-able; we already use stainless steel water bottles and reusable coffee cups, as well as stainless steel lunch boxes and cloth bags. However we were reminded why we do these things and how we really need to stop letting random plastic infiltrate our lives.

Then, a few weeks after that, I came across this video about a family living a zero waste lifestyle. It must have been just what I needed, because after that, my decision was made. We were going to work towards living a zero waste life. I decided that by the end of this summer, we would attempt to eliminate at least 1/3 of the "stuff" in our home and stop buying anything new (with the exception of necessities that are unavoidable, like food of course). It's all already out there, already produced, packaged and purchased from the large corporations... why not just find the stuff not being used any more and give it new life?

I spoke with my partner and shared the videos with him. He agreed that we could do a lot more than we do and he said he would join me on my mission. We spoke about how probably 90% of our trash comes from food packaging alone, and how it was time to change that. Then I spoke with my older kids and showed them the videos that inspired me. My oldest son was pretty much already on board, but a little nervous to lose some of the fun snack food that we eat. My daughter, the 11 year old, well... I have faith that she will pull through. See, she is a bit of a pack rat and really likes "stuff". So then I showed them The Story of Stuff, which they mostly knew about already... but I think it helped. My daughter said that even though they used a lot of really big words that she didn't understand, she still "got" it. Let's see...

Well, that should give you a little idea of where I'm coming from as you read this blog. There is one more thing that happened a few days ago that is important. When you make a fairly big decision that involves so much change, of course you have moments of "what am I doing?"... but luckily for me, some local bear got into our trash a few days ago and dumped our trash all over our yard, so I got to avoid that "what am I doing" thought because I couldn't believe how much waste there was. I also couldn't avoid the embarrassment of how much trash we had on display. Let me tell you, there is nothing like seeing 2 months worth of trash spread out all over your yard. (Yes, 2 months worth... we don't really pay our trash bill often, but the good thing is that we do take a while to fill the trash can). That bear ripped open every trash bag and guess what? My estimate of 90% of our trash being food packaging was right.
And now, it's time to change that.