Author: mkhuber

Why Use Towels That Go In The Trash When You Can Use Towels That Can Go In The Washer?

How many rolls of paper towels do you use a year?

We probably only buy 3-4 rolls of paper towels and reserve them for particularly messy situations. I usually forget they are even under the sink.

Otherwise, I have been using a legitimate, real towel for cleanups.

To get to this point, I have stocked our kitchen with lots of actual towels that get washed in the washer instead of tossed in the trash can.

In our small kitchen closet, we have one drawer devoted to “rags” or clean up towels and we keep one hanging underneath the sink. These are basically just old towels, be they old bath hand towels or old dish towels. Certain towels are used specifically for the bathroom and ones for the kitchen.

The second drawer holds cloth napkins and dishcloths. The third has hand and dish towels.

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Having plenty of towels on hand keeps us from having to reach for the paper version, which we keep around for emergency back up.

After the towels are used, I let them dry on the washer door and toss them in the hamper.

A huge pro of using real towels in the kitchen is that it doesn’t necessarily mean more laundry. At the end of the week, usually on Friday or Saturday morning, I collect all the towels from around the house, wash them on hot, and replace them with clean ones.

That’s it.

The bath towels and sheets needed to be washed anyway, so it’s no more work for me, and no additional load of laundry.

We save money and landfill space. Win-win!

 

Patience

If you know me personally, patient most likely wouldn’t be your adjective of choice to describe me.

But I have been thinking lately about patience and that is mostly because I started a new job that I am very very excited about. I graduated 6 years ago and I have been through 4 jobs since then. Some were good and some were not, but I continued to search, to network, and to interview.

I got rejected A LOT. Since 2012, I have applied for 393 jobs and received 60 first-round interviews. That is a success rate of 15%. It was disheartening and frustrating, but I had to be patient. It was worth the wait.

Patience is also an important trait when dealing with any environmental/waste/green tasks. Our society has pushed instant gratification on us. We use something once and then throw it out. We want something new, we buy it right now and get it shipped to our door the next day.

It seems counterintuitive to go against this, and harder, more difficult, and inconvenient, but it makes a bigger impact.

Take an extra two seconds and collect your kitchen scraps for a compost service.

compost bin

Search secondhand services for exactly what you are looking for and sell your items on Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, and ThredUp. Or donate your stuff.

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Fix up what you already have whether it is a chair, jeans, or your dress pants,

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Collect personal care products and plastic bags, save your beyond repair clothing, take in your running shoes to be recycled, and return wire hangers from the cleaners.

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Grow your own vegetables or join a CSA.

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Shave with a safety razor.

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Take action on things you don’t want like junk mail, mail not addressed you and solicitations.

Old tenant's mail

Choose the slower shipping option.

All of these things take TIME, but I value the outcome more than the time it takes to bring my plastic bags back to the grocery store.

It takes patience to do these things instead of just throwing stuff into the trash can. Sure, that is easier and sure, that is faster.

But properly taking care of what comes in and out of your life is worth the wait.

A Place for Personal Care Products

Unlike some people in the zero waste world, I have not rid my life of all store-bought personal care products. I do still like to use toothpaste…

So does my husband, so anyway here we are.

A while back I heard that clean beauty store, Credo has partnered with TerraCycle to take back personal care and beauty items for recycling.

I have been buying makeup from Credo for a while, long before they opened a physical store here in Chicago. While their products are free of a bunch of nasty chemicals, they don’t do so well on the packaging front.

So when I learned you could bring in your empties (and earn rewards points will doing so!) I started to hoard our floss containers under the bathroom sink. Not going to lie, I have also dug stuff out of the bathroom trash!

credo dropoff1

The bag slowly accumulated deodorant, toothpaste, floss, old makeup, hair gel containers, a lotion bottle and much more.

credo dropoff2

Over the weekend I took my haul into Credo on Damen and asked what they do and do not accept. Turns out basically anything except nail polish, perfume bottles, and hair spray.

So I did have to take my hair spray back home with me and I am still trying to figure out what to do with it. Did you know aerosol cans can explode if crushed when they are not completely empty?! Mine must not be empty because it still makes noise when I press the nozzle.

All in all, I am happy to have a little more space under the bathroom sink and for my old toothpaste tubes to be properly disposed of.

Growing Goodies on Our Balcony

On a dreary day in May (Chicago has had plenty of dreary spring days), I ventured out to the newly opened City Grange garden center to find what I could grow on my balcony.

When we moved into this apartment last summer, I did not make an attempt to grow anything beyond some flowers, but this year I wanted to try growing vegetables and herbs. Even after taking a small space gardening class at the Chicago Botanic Garden, I was not entirely sure where to start.

Luckily, City Grange is there to help people like me figure it all out. Unlike Home Depot or other garden centers where it is next to impossible to find an associate, and then an associate that actually knows what they are talking about, at City Grange I was immediately greeted and offered assistance. And boy did I need it!

I explained what kind of sun I get, what floor we are on, that we don’t have a hose, and how much space we actually have to grow. After some discussion I left with:

  • Romaine
  • Garlic Chives
  • Kale/Red Kale
  • Mint
  • Oregano
  • Cilantro
  • Sorrel
  • Calendula
  • Strawberry
  • Milkweed

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I also left with potting mix, seaweed fertilizer, and probably the greatest find of all, a pig watering can.

Not all of my plants were meant for human eating. Milkweed is an important food source for monarch butterflies. I also planted the calendula 1. because they are pretty and 2. because I needed a cross pollinator for my strawberry plant.

My planting vessels ranged from one reused pot from last year, two new self-watering pots from Target, and an upcycled metal pot and basin I got at a garage sale for $3. I drilled some holes into the pot and basin and they were ready to go!

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After some time, my little plant babies started to get acclimated to their new home and started growing big and strong (except for the garlic chives, they are not feeling it).

Plants 2

I got my first calendula flower, which looks like a little marigold and a bloom on my strawberry plant.

Plants 3

The cilantro, mint, and oregano have been prolific and I am often harvesting almost every week. I have been drying the oregano and also using it fresh.

plants 1

Almost two months later my plants have been doing amazing, except those darn garlic chives. I have had fresh romaine and sorrel salads, kale in my smoothies, and fresh cilantro on tacos!

This experience has been much better than when I tried to grow herbs from seeds. If you are in the Chicago area, I highly recommend checking out City Grange!

When Was the Last Time You Went to The Tailor?

When was the last time you went to get your clothes altered to fit your body?

And no, the last time you went to the tailor/seamstress to get a bridesmaid dress hemmed does not count. That is not the same.

I have blogged a lot about taking care of the clothes we own, by getting them fixed or just plain, old taking good care of them!

One way to take care of the clothes we own, that I think is often overlooked by my age group, is taking clothes to a tailor to be fitted to your own body’s shape and size.

The standard sizes from clothing manufacturers are all over the board anyway. A size 6 in one brand is a size 10 somewhere else and the way we shop online without actually trying on the piece basically guarantees we will end up with clothes we thought would fit but most definitely do not.

Even so, clothes are not made specifically with your measurements in mind, but a tailor or a seamstress can help your ill-fitting clothing become the perfect size!

For instance, I went through a period a couple years ago where I gained some weight and none of my dress pants fit. So I went out and bought some. Fast forward to now, where I have since lost that weight and of course, none of those pants fit. They were so so saggy on me.

I didn’t want to buy another set of pants again and I liked them enough that I decided to get them taken in to fit my current body shape. Two of the pairs I decided I did not want to invest the money in tailoring, so I gave them to a friend. The other two I took down the street to a nearby cleaners. Forty bucks later I had two pairs of pants that fit.

alterations

Previously, I had brought in a skirt I purchased from thredUP and had it taken in. It was great to walk out with a piece of clothing that had been altered just to fit me.

Sometimes it is not worth it to pay for alteration fees. In that case, let go of those clothes for someone else! But if it is a piece you love and a quality one, why not put a couple extra dollars into making it uniquely your size.

 

 

An Easy Way to Secondhand Shop: thredUP

For the most part, I do a pretty good job of avoiding the temptations of shopping for new clothes. I don’t wander the mall for fun, or go window shopping, and I have unsubscribed from alluring marketing emails.

Sometimes I succumb to my desires and I end up trolling websites, adding things to my cart, feeling bad about it, and then never returning to purchase it.

I try and keep a list of items I am specifically looking for so I don’t get swept away by something trendy and end up impulse shopping.

Back to where I mentioned feeling bad about shopping, this is important. I am fully aware of all of the environmental and social costs associated with purchasing new clothing (water, resources, labor, shipping, etc.), which makes randomly purchasing pieces really hard for me (but just to be clear, I still do purchase new clothing).

Enter thredUP, a humongous repository of secondhand clothes filterable by size, brand, color, you name it! The problem I find with shopping for secondhand clothes in physical stores is sorting through what you are looking for. It takes time and patience.

With thredUP you can search specifically for what you are looking for and also create alerts when say a Madewell cardigan is added. That’s how I ended up with the cardigan on the right.

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Two J. Crew cashmere sweaters and a Madewell cardigan for much less $$$

I created my search and then waited for the right one to come along, but since there is only one of each item (usually), you need to act fast! By the time I checked my email alert, someone had already added it to their cart. An item can stay in someone’s cart for a specified amount of time and if it is not purchased it is opened back up. If you really like an item, you can check that you will auto-buy if didn’t end up getting purchased.

It was really easy and I used that feature to get my Madewell cardigan. I also set alerts for certain brands I am fond of, which is how I found the two cashmere J. Crew sweaters on the left. I wanted a cashmere J. Crew sweater but they retail for over $90. This one on thredUP was new with the tags still on for half the price. It is warm, cozy, and I love it.

A handful of my wardrobe has come from thredUP and I intend to add more pieces along the way. My coworker recently stopped by my office and asked if I had used thredUP before and my response was something like, “Yes, I have a bunch of clothes from there, this J. Crew sweater I am wearing is from thredUP! Oh wait, so is this Ralph Lauren skirt! I am wearing an entirely secondhand outfit!”

All in all, I recommend thredUP. I have not used other secondhand shopping sites like Poshmark yet but plan to take a look. I am on the hunt for a white denim jacket!

Do you have a place you love to secondhand shop? Let me know!

This post is not sponsored by thredUP, I just like their site and want to share! 

Behind the Scenes at Meliora Cleaning Products

What does Meliora mean?

It means better (in Latin) and it means knowing what ingredients are in your cleaning products.

Earlier this week, I attended my first Chicago Women in Green event held at Melioria Cleaning Products.

Meliora2

Available Meliora products.

For over a year now, I have been using their unscented powdered laundry detergent that comes in a cardboard canister and is made right here in Chicago.

Before making the switch from our standard Method free and clear detergent, I asked K how he would feel about it. He didn’t care as long as the clothes got clean. And they did, so we have been using it ever since.

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Founder, Kate Jakubas, lead us through the factory.

So I was thrilled to go behind the scenes, learn about their factory and manufacturing process, and see where the products I purchase are made.

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Look soap!

They list every ingredient in their products, are a certified B-Corp, avoid synthetic fragrances, use plastic, glass, and cardboard wherever possible, and even repurpose berry boxes from Costco throughout the factory!

 

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We got to take home a “mystery” bar of soap made up of the ends and beginnings of different scents. No waste here!

On top of Meliora laundry detergent, I also use their all-purpose home cleaner that comes in a little tub and all you have to do is mix it in a spray bottle with water! I love not having to continually purchase a new plastic bottle of cleaner every time one runs out. All I have to do is keep refilling.

While on our visit, I was able to purchase their new solid dishwashing soap. Yay to no more plastic bottles sitting on my counter! In the future, Meliora will hopefully come out with a plastic-free dishwasher detergent, but right now they are still working on the formula.

If you are in Chicagoland, their laundry detergent can be purchased in bulk at the Dill Pickle Co-op and Sugar Beet Food Co-Op, but you can also purchase refills in paper bags. You can find their products in a handful of stores and on Amazon.

Now excuse me while I go clean!

I was not compensated for my review of Meliora Cleaning Products, I just happen to really like them! 

Does Chicago Require Grocery Stores to Provide Plastic Bag Recycling?

It all started the other week.

I had two bags full of all types of plastic bags and plastic film, which I take to recycle when one of the bags underneath the sink starts to overflow. I was stopping at Whole Foods for a different reason and brought my bags of bags along with me inside.

Now, I don’t usually shop at Whole Foods and was not sure where their plastic bag recycling was. At most grocery stores, it is by the door. I looked around and did not see anything, so I walked over to the customer service desk and waited until an employee could help me. When it was my turn I asked where the plastic bag recycling was and in the most joyous tone, the employee responded that they did NOT have plastic bag recycling, and then he turned to help someone else.

Stunned, I turned around and walked out of Whole Foods, completely forgetting what I had actually gone in there for.

In the car, I sat and tweeted at Whole Foods. I got no response. I was pretty peeved and wondered a whole bunch of things like:

How could a store that touts its amazing environmental stewardship not provide recycling? It sells items wrapped in plastic, should they not provide a proper way to dispose of it? 

Don’t all grocery stores offer plastic bag recycling? Jewel-Osco does, so does Target.

I was so confused, so I started looking more into it.

Plastic grocery bags and most any kind of plastic film, like bread bags or the plastic shrink wrap around toilet paper, cannot be recycled in Chicago’s blue bins. They get wrapped up in the machinery and cause a whole big mess. Learn more about that here and here.

According to the Department of Streets and Sanitation’s Chicago Recycling Guide: A-Z, “plastic shopping bags can be recycled at grocery stores, pharmacy’s and many big-box retailers.”

plastic bag recycling

And then further down it says “All Chicago grocery stores are required to accept plastic shopping bags for recycling. Bags from other stores are also accepted.”

shopping bag recycling

There seems to be some disconnect. Obviously, not all grocery stores, pharmacy’s and big-box retailers offer plastic bag recycling given my own personal experience.

So I started sleuthing…

To figure out where you can bring plastic bags/film, you could use Earth911‘s Where to Recycle tool. When I search “plastic bags” based on my zip code I get Jewel, Kohls, Target, Walmart, Sam’s Club, Lowes, and JCPenny (and that was only from 5  of the 11 pages of results). Mariano’s, where I usually bring my plastic bags is, amazingly, not listed.

You could also use Plastic Film Recycling. This search brought up Jewel, Target, Mariano’s, Walmart, Kohls, and 17 pages of results for my zip code.

But Whole Foods is not listed in either repository. Why?

I did some more digging into the Municipal Code of Chicago and found under Title 7 Health and Safety, the Chapter 7-30 Plastic Bag and Film Plastic Recycling Ordinance. The Code states that if a store does not provide plastic bags to customers, it does not have to provide recycling for them (based on my basic understanding of the code).

According to the Code:

   (j)   “Store” shall mean a retail or wholesale establishment, other than a food service establishment, where twenty-five percent (25%) or more of gross sales include prescription or non-prescription medicines and/or any cooked or uncooked article of food, drink, confection or condiment used for or intended to be used for human consumption off the premises, is stored, sold, prepared, cooked or offered for sale at retail such as candy manufacturers, confectioneries, fish markets, fruit and vegetable markets, grocery stores, convenience stores, meat markets, nut stores, dressed poultry markets or retail bakeries, bakery outlets or any similar place and provides plastic carryout bags to consumers in which to place these products.

It turns out Whole Foods does not actually provide plastic bags to their customers, thus exempting them. I would not know that Whole Foods does not give out plastic bags because I do not shop there and even if I did, I bring my own reusable bags. Go figure!

So to answer the question stated in the title of this blog post, yes, Chicago does require grocery stores to provide plastic bag recycling as long as it fits within the definition of a “store.”

 

 

 

 

I Paid Someone To Fix The Hole in My Jeans

I have lofty goals sometimes and try to fix things that are in need of repair.

The key word is “try” because it is been proven that I am not a skilled seamstress as outlined in this past post. Luckily, I received a basic sewing machine class for Christmas and am on my way to improving my sewing skills a bit.

My attempt to patch the hole in my jeans failed miserably and I ended up hoarding that pair until I could turn them into housing insulation.

Since then, I recently had an older pair of jeans rip a hole in the crotch while I was doing an impersonation of an Olympic curler (yes, you read that right). As I glided into a deep lunge, I immediately knew my pants were done for.

But like last time, I held on to this pair because I knew there was a way to bring them back to life even if it wasn’t fixed by me.

A couple of weeks later, while walking down the street, I noticed a storefront that advertised denim repair and thought I would give it a shot. So I brought them over to Mildblend Supply Co, paid $25, and a week later had fully repaired jeans.

fixed jeans

Where is the fixed hole? It is hard to tell!

Twenty-five dollars seems like a lot for just fixing a hole, but its cheaper than buying a new pair of quality jeans.

According to the employee who was sifting through all the repaired jeans to find mine, their store is one of the only ones in the Midwest that has a darning machine (check it out on their Instagram). They did an amazing job. Can you even tell where they fixed it?!

Given that the probability of me ripping my jeans is pretty high, I foresee going back there again.

In Chicago and have hole-y jeans (that aren’t supposed to have holes, not those trendy ripped ones)? Then check them out!

 

 

What Will Happen to Chicago’s Worm Farm?

For the past three or so years, almost every banana peel, eggshell or orange rind that came out of our household has made its way to one urban worm breeding farm to become compost via our composting service Healthy Soil Compost.

compost bin

The remnants of tonight’s dinner end up in our bucket.

That worm farm is Nature’s Little Recyclers. They take my food waste and turn it into worm castings to be added back to the soil as a rich growing medium, they create local jobs, and save quite literally tons of food waste from landfills.

I owe them a lot.

Unfortunately, as with anyone trying to save the world, a few barriers are standing in their way.

Right now that barrier is the City of Chicago, who is shutting down Nature’s Little Recyclers last location due to lack of a permit and cease-and-desist orders. The laws in this city are not made for small business composters.

So Nature’s Little Recyclers started a petition to tell the Chicago City Council and the mayor to make it easy to compost in the city. Since the petition started 2 weeks ago, it has received over 4,400 signatures.

So if you compost in the city or support updating our laws to accommodate urban composting please sign the petition here.

Learn more about the situation with recent news coverage: