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Garbage Can Challenge – May Update and Sign Off

Ayla Dunn Bieber tells of a fowl plastic encounter, shares some bright sustainability spots, and signs off for the summer…

There has been a steady hum of busy birds around our house these past few weeks: nests being built, eggs being laid, baby birds being fed. We are lucky that a family of robins has graced us with their presence the past few years and has built a nest in a bush next to our garden! It’s at the perfect height to catches glimpses at their progress as we walk by.

True story: A few weeks ago, Odelia and I were walking by the robin’s nest to check on it’s perfect blue eggs, when we noticed the mama bird looked to be in distress. We waited and watched and quickly noticed that her leg was caught in something! She was frantically trying to get her foot freed as she flapped and struggled. I got as close as I could, without disturbing her more, to try to see what she was caught on. Sure enough… you guessed it, folks… it was a strip of PLASTIC! Determined to help this mama bird, Odelia and I ran into the house to get a glove and pair of scissors. Just as my hand neared the scared bird, she took one last plunge and freed herself!

I got closer to the nest and realized the robin had used this piece of plastic, weaving it among the twigs, to build her nest (not uncommon). I pulled the piece that was not compactly woven within the nest out and had a sinking feeling. It took me a while to figure out what kind of plastic it was, later realizing it was a shred of plastic material from an old tarp. This is an item I would not have thought of as ‘unsustainable’, but as it goes, once my eyes have been on the lookout, I have since seen more of these same shreds of plastic littered around other places as well. This story has a happy ending thought, as the eggs hatched and we have been enjoying watching the baby birds being fed worms and getting bigger! This is sadly not always the case. Let’s use this story to inspire more awareness and action. It’s certainly got me thinking about tarps, for one thing…Do any of you have/use any tarp alternatives? I will be doing some research on canvas tarps!

Sustainability is catching on all around us, in new spaces and in exciting ways. It is becoming hip, which while it can be annoying because we have to watch out for ‘green washing’, definitely has it perks. More people are getting on board every day, in ways big and small. Our favorite restaurant in Nyack, O’Donoghue’s, just switched to paper straws. This is huge, because when one business makes a move, more are bound to follow! Are you seeing any broader changes around you?

Camp is right around the corner and we have some new things planned for this summer with sustainability in mind. Here is a sneak peak of a couple:

We will be partnering with Green Camps, an organization that’s ‘leading the environmental sustainability movement among camps in the U.S. and Canada.’ We’ll be increasing our camp programming around ways that we all can make small changes that help our Earth, both at camp and at home. We’ll also be working towards a Leave No Trace Youth Program accreditation, as we continue to educate campers in the Leave No Trace ethic and the fundamentals of stewardship.

I’m so looking forward to seeing all of these efforts in action and to partnering with all of our camp families to really make a difference!

Through all of the ups and downs of this garbage can challenge, it has been an honor to take this journey with you this year. My hope moving forward is to hold tightly to what I have learned and continue the process of changing habits towards increased sustainability in our home. I know our family can do better than our 1/2 can of garbage per month, where we have remained for the later half of the challenge. May this summer bring your family, and mine, a little breathing room to try some new sustainable choices!

With sustainability ever on my mind, I sign off for now…
Ayla

 

Garbage Can Challenge – April Update

Ayla Dunn Bieber gets frank about her challenges and encourages us all to rally in the name of Earth Day…

Well….Spring was not as ‘in the air’ as I had excitedly pronounced in last month’s Dirt, was it? I hope you all stayed warm and are as excited as I am to finally be seeing some real signs of spring. One of my favorite signs is the faint red hue on the trees tops (and the pink on the cherry trees) as the buds plump up, hinting at what is to come!

I’d been stressing about writing this month because, truth be told, I didn’t do my homework: there were no home made tortilla chips created in the Dunn Bieber household this month. Daniel said, “Well, just tell everyone that you didn’t do it. People love hearing when other people fail.” I laughed, but in truth, I agree. I think as important as sharing our successes is, sharing our challenges (better word than ‘failures’!) is of equal value.

My mantra to get over this hump: If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again! Don’t give up. I’ve been experiencing that the first time you try a new sustainable choice is usually the hardest. Once you get the kinks out and don’t need to rely so heavily on reading directions, getting set up, and potentially buying materials/ingredients you might need, things really do move along and can get folded into your current routine. If you do get beyond the start-up and make a permanent change, that is awesome. Contrarily, some choices might not be right for you at the time that you try them out, and its okay to let them fall by the wayside to be picked up another time. I guess the chip making was on the slightly more complex end of the spectrum (for me) and didn’t quite make the cut…yet. I do hope to try the idea out again though and see if I can bring it into my routine.

Is there a sustainability-related action you’ve been thinking about trying that hasn’t made it past the idea phase? Commiserate with me in the comments section below 🙂

In other news, an important day for sustainability is coming up!

I’ve been thinking about Earth Day and so grateful for the intentionality this day brings. It both  increases awareness and gathers people to take action. I encourage you to do a quick google search for Earth Day activities in your area and if there isn’t something that catches your eye, come up with something your family can do to mark the day! To spark some ideas, here is a great resource from The National Geographic Kids called: Tips for Protecting the Earth.

This is the last month of the Garbage Can Challenge for the year (final post coming in next month’s Dirt). Let’s all do our extra best to REDUCE, reuse and recycle this month!

Ayla

Nature’s Palette

Our cooking instructor, Eva Szigeti, paints an extraordinary picture of the changing colors in nature’s palette and includes fascinating notes on using plant dyes, including a DIY how-to…

After what felt like an almost never-ending winter, it is a great joy to finally enter the season of budding colors. Snowdrops, violets, and skunk cabbage might be the first signs of spring, but they never quite convince me that the winter is gone for good. It is when the leaves on the trees emerge that I feel assured: there is no way back to winter-land. The change of scenery is usually sudden. With it, nature bursts into color. We leave behind the lifeless shades of grey and brown and celebrate the   soft colors of spring. Shades of fresh green, with occasional dots of color, dominate the landscape. Comforting and calming colors of early spring slowly mature and change. Plants soak up the sunshine and richer colors come to life. The color palette of nature reaches near perfection on a wild flower meadow in June or on a field of wild lupine in July.

As the year progresses, the colors of nature become even more full and rich. The warm shades of the fall landscape bring another visual highlight of the year. The reds, golden yellows, oranges, and rusty browns radiate back the energy of the sun as if to charge us with energy before the world around us fades again into the greyish-brown realm of early winter.

Nature has everything we need, including color. In fact, there were no synthetic dyes until the mid 19th century.  Still, the world of humans had not been colorless. Until then, dyes and pigments came exclusively from nature. Think of old masters: Michelangelo, Botticelli, Vermeer, Rembrandt, Bosch…. They painted with the colors of nature. The fibers of traditional oriental rugs and renaissance tapestries were all dyed with natural materials. So were the luxurious dresses of emperors and empresses of the past. Fabrics of rich colors symbolized status, and their cost was high. Lower classes dressed in browns and grays, shades that were the easiest and cheapest to create.

Dyeing is not unlike cooking. It involves applying heat to extract, in this case, not flavor but color. A large pot is utilized to make a dye bath. The plant material gets simmered in water in order to extract pigments. Then fabric or fiber is immersed in the (warm or cold) colored liquid to absorb the dye. Some dye material might be hiding in your kitchen. Tea, coffee, turmeric, or onion skin all contain pigments that get easily absorbed by natural fiber or fabric. Henna used for tattooing and dyeing hair also creates beautiful rusty reds on fabric.

The process is fun and satisfying. We can start by collecting plant material suitable for dyeing (marigold, goldenrod, black walnut etc.), then we cook the colored brew. If our goal is to create a solid color fabric, we just need to put the textile into the dye bath. Otherwise, we apply our artistic imagination and prepare the fabric by folding it to create pattern. I like to get inspired by the techniques of ancient Japanese Shibori.

When working with plant dyes, we get the satisfaction of knowing that the colors come from renewable resources rather than petroleum.  Natural material such as silk, wool and cotton absorb the dyes well. Although the use of mordants (solutions that act as binding agents) usually results in richer colors, for safety and environmental reasons, I prefer not to use them.

Feel free to experiment. Nature is forgiving. Even unexpected results have their beauty. Sometimes we end up with a color or pattern that is much more beautiful than anything we could have planned. Mother Earth provides everything we need.


Dyeing Cotton Fabric with Annatto

Annatto seeds come from Central and South America. Traditionally, they were used as body paint. Annatto is widely used today as a food coloring.  The orange color of the supermarket cheddar comes from these seeds!

Annatto dye bath produces yellow, golden yellow, orange-yellow, or orange hues, depending on the amount of seeds used, and the weave and thickness of the fabric. Silk and wool can also be successfully dyed with annatto seeds.

  • 1 cup annatto seeds
  • medium piece of cotton fabric or 2-4 cotton bandanas
  • pot and stirring spoon (used exclusively for dyeing)
  • iron for ironing the fabric, rubber bands, string, thread and needle (you may only need one of these, depending on the folding technique you choose)
  • plastic gloves to protect your hands

Choose white or off-white fabric/bandanas for your project. Unbleached fabric will produce deeper color.

Gently simmer the annatto seeds in about a gallon of water for one hour. In the meantime, fold the fabric using one of the Shibori techniques. This is a link to one of many videos showing how to use the Shibori folding techniques. In this video synthetic dyes are used, so please disregard their dyeing instructions.

Gently rinse the folded fabric in lukewarm water, making sure that it is wet throughout. This will assure even absorption of the dye liquid.

Turn off the heat under the pot. The dye liquid can be strained, but leaving seeds in the dye bath during the whole dyeing process will produce richer color.  Put the fabric into the dye bath and let it steep for at least 4 hours or overnight. Take the fabric out of the pot. Rinse under running water and squeeze out excess water. Unfold the fabric and be ready to be surprised! Put out your fabric to dry. Before further use, hand-wash the dyed fabric.

Be Straw Free! Debrief with Sondra and Emily

In February’s Dirt, Sondra Grewe deGraft-Johnson and Emily Selover invited us to join in their pledge to be straw-free for the whole month of March. Did you participate? Here they debrief the challenge and share future goals for the #StrawFreeNPDC movement and the larger sustainability movement!

Sondra: You’d think that eliminating a small piece of plastic from your daily life would be pretty easy, but actually it’s not as easy as you might think. In March, I joined the NPDC challenge to use zero plastic straws for the entire month (and hopefully, beyond). I knew it would pose a bit of challenge for me, since I eat out a few times per week and those occasions are generally where straws come into my life. In fact, the amount and frequency of people eating out and eating on the go has really been on the rise over the past 10 or 20 years, and has contributed to single-use plastic being so pervasive in our society.

Most of the month was a success. I would say that during a regular month, before attempting to reduce my straw usage, I probably would have used about 12 straws in a month. This month, I would say I encountered about 3. Being proactive and speaking up about my wish to not have a straw worked well in places where you take your food to go. I actually bought a pack of paper straws for desperate instances where having a straw avoids major inconveniences (Hello, I had to try a Playa Bowls smoothie when they first opened!). In sit down restaurants it could be more tricky, as sometimes they bring water with a straw IN IT to you BEFORE you have a chance to say anything. But overall the majority of March went well.

At the end of March I traveled to see my family in Kentucky. On the way home from the airport, we stopped at a family-owned Italian restaurant and were placed with the friendliest of servers. When I explained my straw situation and shared my awareness with him, I thought I had finally hit the jackpot of servers. He was so excited! He agreed that he was trying to reduce his plastic use as well.

My first round of water was great – no straw, no problem. But, when he brought us refills, guess what was in the glass?!! A big, ugly straw. And in those situations, what can you do? The straw has already been used. Here I am, trying to be an example to others and yet, as I sipped my drink, I felt like the biggest hypocrite. But I realized when you are dining out, you have so little control.

So lesson one from this month – try to eat out less. Thus, more control. Lesson two – don’t be hard on yourself! Celebrate the good you are doing, don’t dwell on the negatives. I can be thankful for every opportunity I have to share my straw mission with other people, like in the case of the server in Kentucky, who really liked the idea. Lesson three- Try to increase awareness of our own habits that get us in trouble. The server was beyond friendly, he had all the Southern hospitality you would expect, but his habits were so ingrained and sometimes human error comes in to play. Those habits and routines we all have are what we each need to challenge day after day until they disappear. We have to train ourselves to make new, better habits! I’m trying to be more conscious of all my plastic consumption and think about what I can do to reduce it in every place and in every way.

Emily: Yes! To Sondra’s point about having less control–you’re relying on other people’s memory and like she said, servers have so many things to keep track of! I had a similar experience. I was out with a couple friends and we all made a point to tell the server, “no straws please”. “Oh yeah! I like that! Have you guys seen the turtle video?”, the server asked, referring to a very graphic viral video of a sea turtle with a straw stuck in its nostril. We all agreed about how horrible it was, and the server even noted that he was a vegan. But when the waters arrived at the table…they all had straws!!!

Giving straws to patrons in restaurants is a customary practice in many places (I realized this once I started paying attention). So customary that it seems to be second nature and servers do it completely out of habit, even when we request otherwise AND have full conversations about it with them! And who can blame them? They have to be on top of so many details at any given time! When we were debriefing this experience, I realized that perhaps we need to take bigger action than just asking for a strawless drink. Perhaps it would be more effective to speak to the owners and managers directly about shifting their establishment’s straw policy. Maybe if servers asked first, “would you like a straw?” more people would say ‘no thanks’ and we would eliminate the issue of getting a straw we did not want before even having the chance to deny it. It would be a win-win for everyone, not only on the environmental front, but also, what owner doesn’t want to save some money by eliminating a cost that’s often unnecessary?

I actually did a bit of research on this and found a statistic from Ardvark (a paper straw company who advocates that restaurants provide straws only on request). They found that, restaurants “that offer straws on demand reduce straw consumption by 40%, diminishing the increased cost of switching to paper straws and allowing restaurants to save money while saving the planet.” Basically, they’re advocating that not only should restaurants only offer straws upon request, but when they do offer straws, they should be paper ones. I like that! The way I see it, as soon as restaurant runs out of their last plastic straw, they should be restocking in paper straws only.

I’ve been getting really fired up about beginning a grassroots campaign in my community to get restaurants to be more straw aware! They could even display signs with their straw policy and why they have it, to spread even more awareness. Hey Dirt Reader, Do you know restaurant owners in your local community? Would you be comfortable speaking up to your local business association or chamber of commerce about a new local straw policy? Who’s with me!?

Sondra and Emily: Here’s what we can take away from all this: We can’t despair and we can’t give up, despite how discouraging it can be to see a straw in your own or someone else’s glass. We have to remember it’s a process and it starts with all of us educating others! Even just telling those closest to us can start the trend. Sondra’s husband Kobi has been declining straws in her company and we can only hope he is doing it when he’s at work as well. Emily’s friends are all afraid [in a good way :P] to even say the word ‘straw’ around her. In addition, we have to get back to the motto of our childhood – Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle. It’s a topic for a whole other time, but we’ll leave you with these hope-inducing ideas from Green Peace Australia for even more R’s than just the classic three. On that note, Happy Earth Day to all and we hope you’ll continue on this straw free journey with us!

Did you say no to straws during the month of March? How’d it go? We’d love to hear your experiences!!!

Garbage Can Challenge – March Update

Ayla Dunn Bieber sparks some spring-time momentum in the realm of sustainability and calls us all to join in the fun…

Happy Vernal Equinox, everyone!! Spring is [sort of?] in the air and I am beginning to feel it. I don’t know about you, but spring is always an exciting time of year for me. I often feel invigorated and inspired to try new things. This includes a Garbage Can Challenge project I wanted to share. Before writing to you next I plan on trying, and hopefully perfecting, making my own tortilla chips. I have noticed lately this is an item I buy way more often than I’d like to and – you guessed it – the bag is not recyclable (in your average recycling program, at least; there are some programs out there that do recycle these bags). Regardless, as we’ve been talking about: if you can make something from scratch with ingredients that are packaged sustainably (i.e. bought in bulk), rather than buy the product in packaging (even if that packaging can be recycled), the former is the more sustainable choice!

From what I have read, to make tortilla chips you need to start by making homemade tortillas. Once you’ve got the tortillas, making the chips is quite simple. Most recipes I found started with store bought tortillas packaged in plastic, which for me defeats the purpose.

Here is a basic tortilla recipe I am going to try. The one change I’m planning to make is to wrap the dough in beeswax paper rather than plastic wrap while it rests. Hoping this will work!

Then, here is the tortilla chip recipe I am going to try. Planning on using avocado oil (a good high heat oil) to fry with.

Have any of you ventured into chip making? I’d love to hear your successes and/or challenges!

Another way to *spring* into sustainability is to connect with others and create some momentum together. Keep America Beautiful, an organization started in 1953 to bring awareness to waste and recycling, launched their annual clean up season today–the first day of spring. Its called the Great American Clean Up:

“The Great American Cleanup, which marks its 20th year in 2018, engages more than 5 million volunteers and participants, on average, every year to create a positive and lasting impact. At Keep America Beautiful, we work to inspire people to take action every day to improve and beautify their community environment through programs like the Great American Cleanup.”

“The Great American Cleanup social media theme – #cleanYOURblock – is a call-to-action to engage more volunteers and participants in public space cleanup, beautification and recycling events conducted by Keep America Beautiful affiliates nationwide. Once an individual becomes a Great American Cleanup volunteer with their local Keep America Beautiful affiliate or partner, our goal is that they will be inspired to take that experience home to organize a similar, smaller-scale event in their own neighborhood … even on their own block.”

Cleanups are taking place across the country in the coming weeks! Here in Rockland, Keep Rockland Beautiful is hosting many cleanups within the county.

You can find contact information for your closest affiliate here and, most of the time, anyone who wants to participate can just show up to a cleanup–or start your own in your neighborhood. It’s spring! Let’s get out together and make some movement!

One last thing I wanted to share was an article I read a few months back by one of my favorite authors, Ann Patchett. Published in the NYTimes, it’s called My Year of No Shopping. This is certainly another way at it! Just stop consuming altogether. Easier said than done, but boy did I find this article intriguing. Maybe next year? Anyone in?

By the way, Daniel, Odelia and I are holding pretty steady with our garbage goal this month (with possibly a bit of room for improvement). Chip bags–you’ve got to go!

Happy SPRINGing into action everyone!

Until next time,

Ayla

Be Straw Free!

Sondra Grewe deGraft-Johnson and Emily Selover invite us all to join in saying ‘no, thanks!’ to plastic drinking straws for the entire month of March, and hopefully beyond…

Hey All!

Ayla and Daniel’s lingering questions about how to choose sustainability in a word that prioritizes plastic, especially when in the midst of life’s challenges, got us thinking and got us inspired. We’re here to propose a simple way that you can reduce your waste, increase your mindfulness, gently educate others, and build your own momentum in creating a life with less plastic….

JOIN US IN SAYING ‘NO, THANKS’ TO ALL PLASTIC DRINKING STRAWS FOR ALL OF MARCH!

Its as simple as that! When getting a drink to go, don’t grab a straw. When ordering a drink at a restaurant or requesting a round of waters, just make sure you add, “no straws, please”! As soon as you start to pay attention to plastic straws, you’ll notice just how ever-present they are – and it’s a little scary (you can read some facts and figures here). But it’s also a great exercise in mindfulness and its an empowering one too! You can keep track of how many straws you deny, and you’ll know exactly the difference you’re making :). Plus, spread the word to friends and family, and watch your simple choice have a ripple effect. We’re even making little cards to put at the end of our table when we go to a restaurant that will say “no straw, please!”, hoping that these will spark conversation and pre-empt any unwelcome straws from ending up in our drinks. We are so excited to have fun with this idea! Will you join us?

We’ll be sharing our straw free escapades on social media with the hashtag #bestrawfreeNPDC and hope you’ll follow along and share your own experiences as well.

Cheers!
Sondra and Emily

 

 

Garbage Can Challenge – February Update

Ayla Dunn Bieber and Daniel Bieber write in collaboration this month, catching us up on their family’s mission to reduce their waste, and sharing some of the critical questions that’ve been on their minds and in their hearts.

As I’m sure we’ve all experienced, sometimes life throws you a curveball. Then you have to put down some of the other balls you’re juggling in order to focus on an important or unexpected challenge. This month was just that for my family. All is OK, but for a while it wasn’t – we were all in crisis-mode, overwhelmed by a family emergency. Naturally, this took our time and attention away from the rest of life, including our garbage challenge. Despite giving myself permission to buy certain ‘easier’ (but more heavily packaged) items, we didn’t exceed our goal tremendously – 3/4 of our garbage can was full instead of the hoped for 1/2.

It was harder than I thought it would be to go back to buying certain things that I had worked hard to give up. I found myself with a new level of anger about just how hard it is to get away from plastic. There’s got to be another way to package food!

Feeling lost in a sea of thought and plastic, I began to wonder: ‘Why is it so challenging to live a zero/low-waste lifestyle’? And ‘How do people do so when life presents a challenging, time-consuming event, or when all of life is an overarching state of crisis (i.e., poverty)’?

These thoughts led me to more thoughts:

What happens when our ideals meet reality? What do we do when stress, busyness, or struggle consume our ability to fully engage in our ideal? How do we compromise what we think is right with what is possible? And, what kind of culture requires that we must give time, money, and energy to be less destructive? What sort of society ask us to choose between dealing with life (a new baby, sick family member, overwork, poverty, illness, etc.) and having the time, money, and resources to be a less destructive consumer (to buy the right package-free products, to grow/make as much as we can, etc.)? I know that when the sh*t hits the fan in my life, I fall back on take-out food, whatever’s easy, and rely on meeting my needs through the fastest, least thought-consuming means of survival.

Being able to spend energy on reducing our household waste is a wonderfully privileged endeavor. It means we’ve had the time (albeit fought-after and fleeting) to think about more than how we’ll eat, live, or get through life to the next day. And what does it say about us (human beings, America) that to live eco-consciously and natural resource-consciously is positioned generally as either the lofty choice of the urban/suburban middle/upper class, or the non-choice of the poor, rural subsistence-farmer?

The truth is that this positioning is somewhat contrived. It is a by-product of the super influx of consumerism that has taken place over the course of just a few decades. In generations past, it was commonplace to re-use goods to the end of their life before disposing of them; and even then, to repair broken things instead of buying new ones; and to shop second-hand goods rather than purchase brand new ones. But as of late, new things–plastic things–have been made so inexpensive, things bought online and shipped from far away have become so cheap, packaged food has become so ubiquitous and is sometimes the only thing found in so-called ‘food deserts’, that suddenly it appears as though there is great effort and expense required in choosing other options. In some instances, that may very well be the case. But in many other situations, those other choices – to re-use something until you can’t re-use it anymore, to wrap a gift in newspaper rather than buy new wrapping paper, to opt-out of using a plastic straw (more on this below), or to take public transportation – still exist and are simpler than our consumer culture would lead us to believe.

So we ask ourselves: how do you catch a curveball while juggling? How do we reach for an ideal when mired in the reality of life? What it all comes down to, we’ve been thinking, is that we each just have to do our best and sometimes we have to temporarily shift our expectations. We’re asking ourselves, what are the simple tactics, the things people have been practicing for generations, that can be chosen even when we don’t feel like they’re making a huge difference. The important thing to keep in the back of our minds, is that every little bit counts.

With love,
Ayla and Daniel

Garbage Can Challenge – January Update

It is hard to believe we are four months into our challenge! I was elated last month to have met our family goal and a little sad to report we were a bit shy of our goal this month. I saw it coming, with the holidays, influx of gatherings, extra food preparation, gifts, etc. While I was trying to be as vigilant as possible, we still ended up producing a little over half our large trash can’s worth of garbage over the month. I have since regained my positive attitude though, and am fired up to make this month a good garbage count month!

In my last post, I left you with a few ideas I was going to try out. Firstly, ice cream. Holy cow (no pun intended) did it come out heavenly! I didn’t make it just once. No, I couldn’t stop! I made several batches of vanilla, a few chocolate with chocolate chips, and one that I used maple syrup in as the only sweetener, and added toasted pecans. I haven’t made any in a few weeks, but just writing about it makes me want to make some tonight! I highly encourage you to try it out if you can!

Additionally, and rightfully secondly, after all that ice cream, I started making my own toothpaste. This also was a huge success. It is so simple and even got kid approved. My niece Naima loves it and told me I needed to give the recipe to her mama. Here is the recipe I used*:

2 tablespoons organic coconut oil
1 tablespoon of baking soda
~20 drops of organic essential oil (I used peppermint oil)

Mix it together and you are all set! This toothpaste can be stored in a recycled jelly jar, or something similar.

*Recipe courtesy of Lauren Singer.

Click to see Daniel and Ayla’s homemade toothpaste debut!

I’ve also stocked up on some new cotton produce bags, bamboo toothbrushes and refillable dental floss. By the way, did you know that, “if everyone in the US flosses their teeth according to ADA recommendations, every single year, our empty containers alone would fill a landfill the size of a football field that 6 stories high!”? I found this out from Lauren Singer’s video on floss, (the low-waste alternative to traditional floss is unfortunately sold out at the time I’m writing this). Even these seemingly little things make a big difference, especially as more and more people catch on!

Amelia, a long time NPDC camper and counselor, wrote in on our blog with a fabulous suggestion I wanted to share:

“Here is a tip I cam across recently. When you go to a restaurant, bring containers for leftovers instead of using the one-time-use styrofoam boxes [or plastic containers]. I can’t stand those things! Apparently it is convention in many European countries for restaurants to not even provide doggy bags; you have to bring the container yourself if you want to take your food home!

Lets break the norm and get rid of non-biodegradable one time use containers!”

Thanks Amelia! A great idea indeed! What other ideas are you guys trying out? Let us all know by leaving a comment on the blog post here.

Signing off until next time,
Ayla

 

 

Garbage Can Challenge – December Update

My heart is full and my garbage can empty…well, not quite, but I have fun news to report! This past month, we met our challenge goal of filling only half of our garbage can for the entire month! Woohoo, celebrate!

I hope you too are finding ways to feel empowered and satisfied by your own trash reduction efforts. Feel free to fill me in on any progress, large or small, in the comment section below.

This month, I have begun to implement some new sustainable methods in our home. For one, I’ve committed to making hummus from scratch, starting with dry beans, and it’s been coming out totally amazing. I’m about to make my own toothpaste for the first time, we’ve been buying bread from the farmer’s market each week, and I have been consistently bringing my big glass storage jars with me when I shop so I can fill them with bulk items.

This morning I was at our local food co-op, The Hungry Hollow Co-op, which some of you may know, and the friendly cashier let me snap his picture with my jars at checkout.

All you need to do when bringing your own containers is take them to the register before you fill them up, and the cashier will weigh your jars (Tip: you don’t have to wait until your jars are completely empty to fill them up. They can just as easily be weighed with some food still in them). Then proceed to fill them up as usual. Very satisfying indeed. I had another experience this month where I brought a glass container to Fairway to try to buy fish without the plastic bag the butcher usually puts it in. It took a little longer, as it was a new experience for the butcher and there was some trial and error in figuring out how to tare out the container, but all in all it worked!

The experience of going into larger stores vs local co-ops is obviously different. I love to support my co-op and I do also purchase some items elsewhere. In those bigger stores, I’m learning it’s okay to ask for these more sustainable modifications, even though it might feel a little uncomfortable to do so. I’ve noticed that if I go in with a super positive, friendly attitude, the accommodations I request might get a funny look or two, but they are happily met.

A note on stickers….they are everywhere. In both of my pictures this month there are little stickers on each piece of produce. So annoying, right? Well, it drives me crazy! My only suggestion here is to buy more produce at farmers markets. I also try to pick through the produce and find some pieces without stickers 🙂

Temptations: This time year, the stores are full of trash producing temptations. Just today, I was so close to buying lovely organic mint chocolate truffle candies. They were on sale, right by the door when I walked in to the store. They were in my cart in two seconds flat. Then, I thought, “Wait…look at the packaging, Ayla!”… Each piece was individually wrapped and then all of them were in a non-recyclable package. Sadly, and a little proudly, I put them back on the shelf. I told myself there are lots of options for goodies that I can make. Speaking of which, Daniel’s birthday is this week and I have been trying to figure out what to make him for a dessert treat. In addition to a cake, I am planning on busting out my ice cream maker that has been sitting in a box since we got it as a wedding present! Did you know you can’t recycle ice cream containers??!!!? 🙁  I’ll let you know how my homemade experiment turns out!

While we did reach our garbage goal this month, we have not relaxed into a groove yet. It’s important to me that we maintain this goal and I would like to see if we can reduce even further. I know the longer we focus energy and efforts on this, the easier it will get and the more sustainable it will become. Thanks again for going on this journey with me!

Until next time!
Ayla

Garbage Can Challenge – November Update

Hey all! How is everyone doing?

Refresher: Last month I set a family goal of reducing our garbage production by 1/2…

Well, our family garbage count this month did not reach our goal. We did have about a foot of empty space at the top of the can though. I would say it was still a little over 3/4 of the way full. While I felt slightly defeated, I was also happy to see some improvement! It’s made me realize this is going to be a process. No surprise, as there are rarely any quick fixes in life, right? I’m reminded that creating a sustainable model is so much more important than a quick fix. I’d like to apply that lesson here and take a slight amount of pressure off of reaching an ambitious goal, and focus more on how to get there. I’m going to allow myself the time to reach my goal over the course of this year, as I find alternatives to some of my plastic consumption and create sustainable new habits.

The other day I had a wonderful conversation with my neighbor, who is an avid recycler and garbage-aware person. She said something that struck me as profound. She said, “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, there’s a reason it’s in that order! Reduce is the operative and most important word here”. Kind of obvious, right? Maybe I am showing my naïveté, but I had never realized the order of the words in that phrase! I mentioned in my last post that I noticed there were some things I had been throwing away that could be recycled, and that my recycling bins have been more full then ever now. And while recycling is important, reduction is most imperative.

The same neighbor also mentioned a segment on NPR she heard called, Why Recycling Options Lead People To Waste More; it highlights some studies showing that if we know something can be recycled we are more likely to overuse and waste it. Click here to read/listen to the 3 minute story. It’s really interesting!

So, my take-away and focus for this next month is going to be starting at the top – the number one R, REDUCE! My biggest reduction effort this past month was switching to cloth diapers for my daughter. I had always thought I would cloth diaper my child, but for a variety of reasons got hooked on disposables. After trying several kinds of cloth diapers (you wouldn’t believe how many types of cloth diapers are on the market these days), I have found some that work for us and am absolutely thrilled. This switch was, for sure, the main reason our garbage production was reduced this past month.

What’s in your garbage can? Most of our family’s garbage is plastic from food packaging. I am beginning to think about some items I might be willing to give up the store bought version of and consistently make my own instead, or buy in a package-free version. I invite you to do the same. Any bread, cheese, or tortilla chip makers out there? How about laundry detergent, deodorant or toothpaste makers? Please, share recipes in the comments section of our blog!

Some REDUCTION ideas:

  • Bring your own grocery bags and shopping bags – an obvious one.
  • Compost – if you aren’t already. I recently read that 40% of municipal waste is compostable!
  • Just say no to plastic produce bags! Use reusable bags instead.
  • Buy in bulk when you can, and bring your own container for your bulk items. I haven’t been to a small food co-op that wasn’t on board with this one. I even brought some glass jars to fill at Fairway this month (this was not so easy and they were a bit annoyed, however). There are several ‘zero-waste’ stores in NYC. Check them out! Wish I lived closer to these.
  • Make your own  ______ (fill in the blank, the options are endless).

Signing off for now,

Ayla