Tag Archives: low waste

One Small Thing: Bags

 

In the One Small Thing series, I am highlighting small changes you can make to your daily habits to reduce your waste and make the world a little greener, and your wallet a little thicker.

Check out all the habits already discussed:

Today we are going to talk about a personal favorite of mine: reusable bags.

budget epicurean weekly eating meal plan

If plastic straws and plastic bottles are the top 2 offenders found on beaches, the lightweight, ubiquitous bag probably rounds out the top three problem children. We have all been walking along, or driving down the road, only to see the tumbleweed of the twenty-first century, the plastic bag, float across our view.

These bags are small, lightweight, and tear easily. They can be pulled out the open window of a car on the highway, fall out of a shopping cart, or sneak under the lid of a trash can.

America is by far not the only nation with this problem. In fact, in a release from Earth Policy in 2014: “Before a ban on thin bags—which tear readily and get caught by the wind— went into effect in 2003, plastic bags were christened South Africa’s “national flower” because of their prevalence in bushes and trees.”

This problem has been ongoing and recognized for years, and many nations are trying to combat it with both taxes and bans. Many states and countries around the world have instituted taxes on merchants, consumers, or both, for using plastic.

Many more have outright banned single use plastic bags, instead imploring suppliers and citizens to use glass, cloth, paper, or cardboard instead. In America: “U.S. cities with bag bans include San Francisco (as of 2007), Portland (2011), Seattle (2012), Austin (2013), Los Angeles (2014), Dallas (to begin in 2015), and Chicago (2015).”

Some more facts from ConservingNow.com:

“Worldwide

  • A person uses a plastic carrier bag on average for only 12 minutes.
  • On average we only recycle one plastic bag in every 200 we use.
  • Each year, an estimated 500 billion to 1 trillion plastic bags are consumed worldwide. That comes out to over one million per minute. Billions end up as litter each year.
  • Windblown plastic bags are so prevalent in Africa that a cottage industry has sprung up harvesting bags and using them to weave hats, and even bags. According to the BBC, one group alone harvests 30,000 per month.
  • According to David Barnes, a marine scientist with the British Antarctic Survey, plastic bags have gone “from being rare in the late 80s and early 90s to being almost everywhere.” Plastic bags have been found floating north of the Arctic Circle near Spitzbergen, and as far south as the Falkland Islands. Source: British Antarctic Survey
  • Plastic bags are among the 12 items of debris most often found in coastal cleanups, according to the nonprofit Center for Marine Conservation.

Sources: International Fund for Animal Welfare, the Environmental Protection Agency and other agencies or persons as cited.

reusable grocery bags

So you know it’s a problem.

You know bags take 500 years to degrade, and even then don’t fully break down, but become toxic micro-plastics.

If you have a bag tax or fee, you’re tired of paying it.

You have a bag full of bags under your sink, or in a closet.

You don’t want to add to your stock anymore.

You’re ready to do something about it.

Now what?

Recycle or re-use old plastic bags

Since you already have a stash of plastic bags (you know you do), the first thing you can consider is recycling them. Many grocers are now putting up collection bins for old plastic bags right at the checkout or store entrance.

Those bags may be recycled into composite wood, which is a mixture of plastic and wood scraps. Or they may be melted down into a new batch of plastic bags. And a small portion may even end up in the space-age-sounding field of nanotechnology:

“Scientists at the University of Adelaide have developed a new way to recycle those plastic bags and create carbon nanotube membranes, which may potentially be used for energy storage and biomedical innovations. ” (source)

If you don’t have a store near you that offers plastic bag recycling, you can at least get creative and give them a second life.

Options include craft projects like turning bags into rugs or purses. You could also use them as liners for small trash cans, to hold dirty diapers, or pick up dog poo. But all these uses ultimately get them into the landfill anyways, now they also have gross stuff inside.

A better choice?

Don’t collect them in the first place!

How? Read on…

Reusable grocery bags – freebies/synthetic/plastic

I have at least 100 reusable bags at this point in my life.

This is not an exaggeration.

I fill the trunks of two cars, and there are even more sprinkled all around the house too.

And I think I paid for… 3 of them?

reusable grocery bags

Tons of events now give away bags, because it is easy branding.

They plaster their logo on the side, and you carry it around town.

If that bothers you, maybe you’ll have to scroll down to the you-buy-it options that can be plain or patterened.

As for me, I don’t give a hoot what’s on the bag. Only what’s in it.

BUT

These bags do come with some risks.

Most shoppers do not separate their groceries into produce – dairy – canned – meats, etc. And a very tiny number of people actually wash their reusable bags, ever, let alone after every shopping trip.

Myself included.

Guilty as charged.

I don’t think I’ve ever washed my reusable bags.

I know I know, how can I even blog about these things? Because honesty is the best policy. And honestly, I’ve never yet gotten sick. I suppose there’s a first time for everything.

And I’d still rather take that chance than keep accumulating bags full of bags.

The biggest message here: reusable is awesome! But wash them often. And never put raw meat in them, this is one case where plastic wrapping is A-O.K.

reusable grocery bags

Reusable bags – natural fibers like cotton, hemp, wool

The best option is to use an extremely sturdy bag made from organic, natural sources.

Emphasis on organic.

Crunchy granola gurus tout cotton bags, but neglect to mention the devastating impacts of pesticides, herbicides, and water usage demanded of conventionally grown cotton.

“The larger takeaway is that no bag is free of environmental impact, whether that’s contributing to climate change, ocean pollution, water scarcity, or pesticide use. The instinct to favor reusable bags springs from an understandable urge to reduce our chronic overconsumption, but the bags we use are not the big problem.” (source)

So look for organically grown cotton or hemp bags.

Or best yet?

Make your own!

Take your old clothing or linens that are destined for the landfill or Goodwill, a little bit of time and DIY sewing, and create yourself an arsenal of free, eco-friendly shopping bags.

Here’s a nice no-sew DIY for a t-shirt tote bag: https://www.mommypotamus.com/no-sew-t-shirt-tote-bag-tutorial/

And 7 more ways to do the same thing: https://thethingswellmake.com/recycled-t-shirt-bags-review-of-7-ways/

As with the reusable bags warning, remember to wash these often, preferably after each use with hot water.

 

Other uses for bags:

  • Corral trash/recyclables/compostables to bring home
  • Keep your car/office space organized
  • Hold wildflowers you pick or a bouquet you buy
  • Forage wild fruits, herbs, mushrooms, or nuts
  • Use instead of giftwrap/tape/bows for the holidays

reusable grocery bags

 

Tell me! Have you ever done any fun DIYs with old bags? Made bags yourself from scratch? How do you avoid single use plastics?

One Small Thing: Coffee Filters

 

In this series I am highlighting one small change you can make to your daily routine or one small thing you can do to make the world a little less wasteful. Don’t miss the previous posts about cloth napkins, handkerchiefs, water bottles, straws, and travel mugs.

Today we are continuing the caffeine chat with: Coffee Filters

This includes regular-sized coffee pot filters, as well as Keurig-style pod cups.

one small thingone small thing

A Brief History of Coffee Filters

As the story goes, all coffee used to be brewed the same way as Turkish coffee insists on being brewed: hot and dark and with the grounds still in the finished drink. This often led to an unpleasant taste and gritty texture.

One day, a housewife decided she was tired of chewing her morning drink. She tried a few different items around the house and found that her son’s blotting paper and a copper pot with holes put in it were the perfect combination for getting the black gold liquid without the gross solids.

And thus, the filter was born.

Through the years we have improved and refined filters based on material type, thickness, and adding ruffles. Those variegated sides help the liquid flow better, and the thickness and grade of paper determines how finely it can filter.

There are even filters made from a far wider array of materials than wood pulp, such as metal, bamboo, even gold.

What Are Coffee Filters Made Of?

Let’s imagine that at least one of those 2.7 cups of coffee per day consumed by 150 million Americans is made at home. That means at least 150 million coffee filters are used per day. And probably at least 149.9 million of those are tossed into the trash, destined for the landfill.

Every day.

coffee filter

Enter the Keurig

Coffee was chugging along, enjoying a slow but steady rise in popularity, when along came an invention that shot it to meteoric fame in homes and offices alike.

Yes, the Keurig.

Originally founded in 1992, Keurig launched its office brewers and line of products in 1998. As the single-serve brewer gained popularity among our instant gratification, everyone-is-unique culture, the Keurig became a household name and expanded for home use in 2004.

Green Mountain Coffee bought the Keurig company and brand in 2006, and business boomed for both through that partnership.

Several more acquisitions and mergers later and they are now part of the Keurig Doctor Pepper brand, and is now “a publicly traded conglomerate which is the third largest beverage company in North America.[

And of course, I must step up onto my soap box for a moment to lambast the Keurig k-cup, or pod, or whatever you want to call this insidious piece of single use plastic crap.

An estimated one in three homes has a Keurig brewer, and the company is on pace to sell over three billion cups per year.

That’s a sh*t-ton of plastic.

Even the inventor of the K-cup says he sort of regrets it… and he doesn’t even own a Keurig machine, saying “They’re kind of expensive to use”.

There’s been much backlash against the waste produced, even to the point of a YouTube video entitled “Kill the K-Cup” which dramatizes the damage it is doing and ends with “Kill the K-Cup before it kills our planet”.

<iframe src=”https://player.vimeo.com/video/116606409″ width=”640″ height=”360″ frameborder=”0″ allowfullscreen></iframe>

When the patents expired, tons of knockoff brewers and cups flooded the market, many of which are better choices based on being recyclable, compostable, or reusable.

Though thank goodness, they are finally trying to change the composition of the cup such that the material is more attractive to recyclers and thus can be diverted for re-use rather than sent to landfills worldwide.

 

How Can You Do Better?

If you use a paper/bamboo filter, compost it

The first point is that most coffee filters are totally compostable! Yes, most are made of paper, and you can toss them into a compost pile or bin, coffee grounds included. The coffee grounds will provide a great source of nitrogen to your plants, while the filter itself will provide some great carbon.

 

Consider re-usable filters

Next, consider a re-useable coffee filter. I bought myself this one, and use it every day. Each night I dump the spent grounds into my compost bin, give it a quick rinse, and restock with fresh grounds for the next day. Easy peasy. I will probably never have to buy another filter in my life! How awesome is that.

We also have 2 sets of these reusable Keurig cups, which hubs uses in his home office, and I took one to work as well. They fit in most Keurig-style coffee makers, but make sure you read the full list in the product description to make sure yours is one with which it is compatible.

 

Another Option: the French Press

A French Press is a (usully) glass container into which you pour raw grounds and hot water to let it steep. It has a filter attached to a pump / handle that you simply press down, and it filters out the grounds. You then pour out your hot coffee, leaving the solids behind. A quick rinse of the press, and you’re good to go.

If it’s just you, try a small 1L size press, or if you have a big thirst or multiple java fiends try the larger 12 cup version. The press is reusable for many many years, and some say even makes a better tasting, less bitter brew, since it doesn’t soak in any oils from the grounds the way a paper filter does.

Can’t Forget My Tea Drinkers!

Oh yes, don’t think just because you don’t get your caffeine from coffee that I’ve forgotten about you. If you morning caffeine hit comes from a nice hot cuppa Earl Grey or a London Fog, this still applies to you.

If you already use only loose-leaf tea with a filter of some sort, then thank you, and feel free to tune out.

Filters and french presses can definitely be used for tea just as easily as coffee grounds. And they can be just as impactful on the environment. In fact, individual tea bags are responsible for several thousands of tons of non-biodegradable waste.

Though like filters, most are made from paper, least 20-30 percent are made from non-recyclable and non-compostable materials. And even the paper kind rarely gets put into a compost pile, most just end up tossed in the trash bin.

Then there are the foil or plastic or plastic-lined packets that some individual bags are further wrapped in, the boxes that are plastic wrapped, the little metal staple that holds the tag on the bag… you get the picture.

Step 1: If you must have individual tea bags, then at least read up on your favorite companies about their production line. Learn which companies have better or worse practices, and maybe switch. Choose tagless, natural sourced bags with minimal packaging.

Step 2: When you use tea bags, compost them! If you don’t have a pile and don’t want to start one, see if there are any local gardens, community gardens, or schools that will take them. Most gardeners won’t turn down extra, free compost materials.

Step 3: Graduate to loose leaf! The bonus is that it is usually far cheaper per pound versus bagged since you don’t have to pay the “processing fee” of bagging and packaging them. You can also get creative a make your own mixes. Go ahead and put a teaspoon each of green tea, spearmint, and chamomile in a cup, you crazy lady you. And then use a filter, steeper, or French press. And compost the leaves, too!

 

Reasons you should consider reusable filters:
  • Saves you money
  • Saves you time – never shop for filters again
  • Saves you hassle – no more forgetting to pick up a new pack of filters at the store and having to buy to-go coffee or -gasp- go without
  • Saves the planet – keep hundreds of pounds of plastic waste out of the landfills

And now that you have your delicious, hot cup of low-waste coffee, don’t forget to put it in your own to-go mug!

 

 

How do you get your caffeine fix?

Weekly Eating – 8/20/18

 

Hey y’all! Welcome to the series Weekly Eating.

Here is where I’ll talk about the week’s meal plan versus reality, what we ate for the week, and how we did budget-wise. I hope it gives readers a behind-the-scenes look into our life through the lens of food, and it’s also a way to keep us on track with meal planning and grocery budgeting.

Feel free to share your wins and lessons in the comments below!

 

Over the weekend, I spent some time pulling out diseased squash vines and clearing a corner of the garden. Since there is now space, I also started a big batch of fall seeds!

budget epicurean fall planting seedlings

My library is amazing and has a free seed service, where you can take home up to 4 kinds a few times a year. You can also save seeds and bring them in to share with your fellow Durhamites. I started the 4 from the library and a few from home too, so hopefully I will have beets, turnips, kale, collards, swiss chard, and/or onions in a few weeks.

 

Monday:

Breakfast – smoothie with peaches, bananas, frozen blueberries and flax & amla powder

Lunch – leftover veggie burger + portobello wrapped up in a whole grain wrap with roasted red pepper hummus and sliced veggies

Dinner – This AMAZING egg roll in a bowl from Don’t Waste the Crumbs: https://dontwastethecrumbs.com/2018/03/egg-roll-bowl/

budget epicurean egg roll in a bowl

Tuesday:

Breakfast – I diced up a potato, some mini peppers, grape tomatoes, and sweet potato leaves and cooked them in a frying pan with a lid on for about 15 minutes for a delicious and filling breakfast hash.

budget epicurean breakfast hash

Lunch – Well… I brought leftover egg roll in a bowl. But I forgot that Tuesday is now my busiest day, and I rarely am at my desk between 10 and 2 anymore. So I was starving, and couldn’t wait long enough, and succumbed to Starbucks (the closest semi-healthy option).

budget epicurean emergency starbucks lunch

I felt so much guilt for the $8.50 spent, as well as the plastic container. I’m hoping this makes me remember next week to pack a lunch that can be portable at room temp. I intend to re-use the package at least a few times.

Snack – hummus and veggies

Dinner – I diced up oodles of veggies: squash, zucchini, bell peppers, white corn, and red onion, and mixed it with 1 cup of quinoa and 1 cup of water. Then I baked it at 350 for about an hour, stirring once. The result was an amazing summer one pan dinner.

budget epicurean quinoa summer veggie casserole

I also had another big batch of leftover old bread slices and ends, so while the oven was on anyways I roasted the bread too, and then pulsed it in my food processor to make bread crumbs. Waste not want not right?

Wednesday:

Breakfast – homemade bread with peanut butter and fruit

budget epicurean toast and fruit

Lunch – leftover egg roll in a bowl with rice. I also had my reuseable water cup with straw, real fork from home, and used a hankie as a napkin. Was pretty pleased with myself.

budget epicurean leftovers waste free lunch

Snack – peaches, apples, and pear slices

Dinner – Erin’s amazing Turkish red lentil stew! I thought I over-did it on the cinnamon, as it smelled pretty strong, but the flavor was great!

budget epicurean red lentil soup

Then that night I had a great food debate on Twitter, which all started with popcorn. Of course I ended up making a big bowl.

budget epicurean stovetop popcorn

Thursday:

Breakfast – my tropical granola with almond milk

budget epicurean granola and milk

Lunch – leftover summer veggies and quinoa casserole and a big green salad

Dinner – Thursday night $3 co-op dinner! Some friends and I are making a tradition of it. Can you tell which is the beef hot dog and which is the vegan one? In my opinion they tasted pretty much the same!

budget epicurean co-op dinner hot dogs

We also went to one of the final home games of the Durham Bulls season, and a great time was had by all. Even though we got shut down pretty hard… at least the weather was GORGEOUS.

Friday:

Breakfast – I chopped up a potato, a handful of green beans, some tiny peppers, and an heirloom tomato and tossed it all in a pan with 1/2 cup lentils and 1 cup water. I let that simmer for 30 minutes while I made coffee and fed the dogs and got dressed, and then enjoyed my hot and tasty breakfast.

budget epicurean lentils for breakfast

Yes, lentils for breakfast. Try it sometime, you might be surprised.

Lunch – leftover African peanut stew that I made over the weekend with a giant rainbow of free produce from a friends’ parents.

budgetepicurean african stew

Snack – hummus & veggies

Dinner – leftover eggroll in a bowl

 

The Weekend

This will be a half and half weekend. Saturday is chillax and no stress day, I can be productive or choose not to be. And Sunday I am hosting another tea party!

 

Food Total: $55.49 + 74.05 = $129.54

This week’s delivery box price was a bit steeper than usual because in addition to my usual box I also invested in 10 pounds of ‘seconds’; peaches that were slightly bruised or discolored, to process into frozen, canned, and jam.

budget epicurean produce box

And then I spent a hefty sum at the co-op on Thursday, for a few reasons. One, we are nearly out of maple syrup. And I learned that real maple syrup is HELLA expensive. Like $20 a bottle. But. HFCS is no longer allowed in the house, and therefore this is the only option. Hopefully this will last a good long time.

Two, I did not realize spirulina is FORTY TWO DOLLARS PER POUND. Yeah I got like an ounce, but that cost near $20. Ugh. But it was already in my own glass jar and weighed and I wasn’t about to go put it back on the shelf… so I sucked it up. Better make some damn good smoothies is all I’m saying…

I also caved when I saw this amazing steel straw and straw cleaning brush on sale this week. It was cheaper here than on Amazon, plus now there’s no shipping or packaging, and my co-op benefits a little. I have tons of heavy duty straws but no cleaners, so this is great. Now the ones that are questionable from dried on smoothie gunk can be squeaky clean again!

budget epicurean steel straw

 

Lessons Learned

Bulk, package-free shopping is addictive! I had so much fun last time that I found myself getting some things that were not on my list, just because I had already tare-d jars just waiting to be filled. Hoarding habits die hard folks.

Also, always get wide-mouth if you have the choice. SO much easier to fill. And finally, almonds are heavy and come out really fast! I accidentally overflowed my jar, and had to pull out and extra container to put the handful that spilled into. Because I ain’t wasting $10/lb almonds y’all.

 

 

How about you guys? Did you have a learning week or an awesome week of wins?

 

 

One Small Thing: Cloth Napkins/Hand Towels

 

In this post series, I am highlighting One Small Thing you can change in your daily life to decrease your consumption and waste production, and move towards a more environmentally friendly, low waste lifestyle.

These changes are focusing on the low-hanging fruit, the small switches that will not break the bank or add hours to your daily or weekly routine.

These are largely changes that used to be considered ‘the way of life’ just a few short decades ago.

Today we are talking about Cloth Napkins & Hand Towels.

budget epicurean cloth hand towels

I know the title looks like two things, since I mention both napkins and hand towels.

But let me explain why they are the same: they are the same.

A cloth, rather than paper, to wipe your hands with. That’s it.

The only real difference being that we call it a hand towel when it is in the bathroom and used to dry your hands after you wash them, and it is called a napkin when it is used at the dinner table or in the kitchen to wipe your face and hands.

cloth napkins

Because we generally don’t use napkins with dinner anyways (I know, we’re animals… no we just aren’t that messy I guess) I haven’t felt the need to invest in a set of cotton dinner napkins.

But I feel that coming on someday soon, as I do love hosting dinner parties and would be more than willing to host family holidays now that we have our own home.

You can re-use cloth over and over for years before they finally break down. And once they become too stained/ripped to use with company, they can become heavy duty cleaning rags for cars, floors, bathrooms, and more.

And the best part is, once they are beyond even that functionality, 100% cotton cloths can even be composted, to totally complete the cycle and close the loop.

Let’s say that your family of 4 uses 2 napkins each per day. I assume lunch outside the house. That equals 56 napkins per week, and a total of 2912 napkins per year.

Now let’s also just pick a random number and say you can get 100 paper napkins for $1 at the dollar store. That still means you are spending a minimum of about $29 per year on paper, which is then thrown away.

That is not taking into account if you buy napkins somewhere more expensive, or in fancy colors or patterns for the holidays, or host family or friends often.

If instead you invested that $29 into a set of nice, restaurant grade cotton cloth napkins, you would most likely never have to buy napkins, ever again! You could probably save yourself over $1000 easily throughout your life, and just imagine how many trees.

budget epicurean cloth hand towels

We used to be die-hard lovers of paper towels.

I mean, what could be easier when you spill some sauce on the counter than grabbing a sheet or two off the roll, wiping it up, and tossing the paper towel in the trash?

There was a roll in the kitchen, on the dining table, on the coffee table, in the bedroom. You never know when you might have to deal with an errant drip of coffee, or a smushed bug, or a dog would cough up something you do not want to touch.

But this convenience comes at a cost, as we would order cases of paper towels every 3-6 months. Not to mention the cost to the environment of all that paper production, transportation, and the greenhouse gasses caused by paper products rotting in landfills.

I figure, we probably spent about $25 on paper towels every 3 months. You can buy 24 cloth hand towels for $16, and they last far longer than 3 months.

That’s a savings of $75, per year!

What I do have oodles of now is cloth hand towels.

If you take a tour of my bathrooms, you will notice towel hooks and a different color towel hanging off each one. Sometimes I even put a second backup towel folded on the counter as well.

budget epicurean cloth hand towels

Many of these are now several years old at this point, as they were purchased on sale throughout college or gifted to me for various birthdays and holidays.

They have cleaned up spills, flour, counter tops, tables, floors, mud, grease, soap, and much more. They have likely been through the wash at least a few dozen times by now.

And all are still perfectly sanitary, and perfectly functional. I have a minimum of one towel hanging off the stove at all times, for cleaning random spills and drying hands or dishes after washing.

budget epicurean hand towel on the stove

When they get dirty, wet, or stained, they just go into the laundry hamper. I wash them with our weekly loads of clothing and bath towels, and have never had a problem.

Though I’m sure there is some small number of pennies spent on laundry soap, water, electricity, and time, these towels have paid for themselves many times over, and will continue to do so for years.

 

To summarize, why should you consider cloth napkins and hand towels?
  • They are infinitely cheaper over time
  • You only need to buy them once every few decades, if that
  • They take far less energy to create than hundreds of paper towels
  • They do not contribute to landfills every week
  • You will love the soft feel of the fabric versus paper
  • They are far more absorbent, for large messes
  • They come in tons of colors and patterns
  • You can use them to clean up after babies and animals
  • They may be able to be composted at the very end of their life

 

What you do think, did I miss any good reasons? Do you use cloth napkins and/or towels, and why or why not?