landfill

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.

towel laundry.jpg

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!

 

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.

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:

ICYMI: Nothing Really Decomposes in a Landfill

Have you been greenwashed into thinking that a compostable bowl is a better choice because once you toss it, it will decompose in a landfill?

Or have you patted yourself on the back for buying those biodegradable/compostable trash bags?

Or have you shrugged it off that it’s fine to throw a banana peel into the garbage because its organic material and will break down?

I hate to break it to you, but that is

not really how landfills work.

In graduate school, our class had the opportunity to tour a nearby landfill and recycling center and let me tell you, it was very depressing.

I will never forget seeing all the things the people of southern Indiana tossed into their garbage cans, being pushed and packed by bulldozers.

And the smell! Phew! Unbelievable!

Anyway, that stuff Hoosiers tossed that day about 6 years ago is still probably sitting around, just as the day it was tightly packed into the Earth.

I am not going to get into all the undesirable aspects of landfills, such as methane production and groundwater leaching, but the best non-super jargony explanation I could find came from this article on livescience.com:

“Landfills are not designed to break down waste, only to store it, according to the National Solid Wastes Management Association. But garbage in a landfill does decompose, albeit slowly and in a sealed, oxygen-free environment. Because of the lack of oxygen, bacteria in the waste produce methane gas, which is highly flammable and dangerous if allowed to collect underground. It is also a potent greenhouse gas and contributes to global warming.”

-Molika Ashford, “What Happens Inside a Landfill

Organic materials need oxygen to biodegrade and landfills lack oxygen when they are tightly packed and sealed. In this same graduate class, we discussed instances of landfill “archeologists” who have found hot dogs and guacamole still intact and years old newspapers completely legible. See more here, here, and here.

It all goes back to the notion that this is no “away.”

Throwing something away, be it a piece of plastic from Amazon packaging, your jeans with a hole in them, a banana peel, a piece of junk mail, an extra metal thing from your IKEA furniture assembly, to that piece of IKEA furniture itself, they will all live on in the depths of landfills scattered across the country. 

And those landfills are getting full.

For instance, Chicago’s garbage is trucked 100 miles outside of the city to 2 landfills in Illinois and 2 landfills in Indiana. Watch this video from WTTW for a comprehensive look as to what happens to Chicago’s garbage once it is put out in the alley. According to the Illinois EPA, at the state’s current rate of garbage collection, Illinois will run out of space for garbage in the next 20 years.

So let’s keep stuff out of the landfill that doesn’t belong. 

Recycle that plastic Amazon packaging in the proper place, or better yet, ask Amazon and other companies to reduce their packaging. You can email Amazon customer service and request that orders for your account come with less packaging. The environmental impacts of Amazon could be a whole blog post in itself.

Fix your jeans with a hole in them or find textile recycling in your area.

Compost that banana.

Recycle that junk mail and call the company to have your address removed.

Don’t buy cheap particle board furniture from IKEA, instead, quality pieces are abundantly available secondhand.

So next time you go to the garbage can just take a second to think before you toss.

 

 

 

Oh Hey There 2019

And just like that, it is 2019.

I am kind of pretending that time has not moved so fast and have not made any resolutions for the new year.

Honestly, I do not need another to-do list.

Last year, I hoped to accomplish the following resolutions.

2018 goals

Here is how I did based on the following scale:

Neah= didn’t even happen

Meh= kind of did it

Yay= accomplished!

1.) Buy in bulk: neah

This just didn’t happen. Will work on this for 2019.

2.) Reduce clothing purchases: yay!

I did make a real conscious effort to reduce my clothing purchases. For instance, I went to a clothing swap, borrowed white dresses for wedding-related events, and only bought a pair of pants and socks for my honeymoon.

3.) Be conscious of what goes in the trash: yay!

I am overcome with legitimate sadness whenever I see things being thrown out that shouldn’t be. It has even rubbed off on K, which is amazing. To bring my lifestyle into our wedding, we had composting and used less wasteful wedding vendors. We collected 227 pounds of food waste in 2018 and I finally worked up the courage to approach the subject of having a compost pick up service in our office. Also when we moved over the summer, I made sure that boxes, bubble wrap, and plastic went to the right places.

4.) Bike to work: meh

So I did bike to work once. I was a little terrified, especially because after I got to work, I found out a cyclist had died the day prior after gotten hit by a truck. Needless to say, I didn’t do it again and now its a bit cold…

5.) CSA Round 2: meh

While we did get another CSA share for the summer, I cannot say that we did a better job of trying to get through all of our produce before it went bad. I did go through a phase of freezing a lot of the veggies, so that was a plus!

6. Remember to say no to straws: meh

Sometimes I remember, but most of the time I don’t. Our biggest win in this category was asking the bartenders at our wedding to not provide straws unless our guests asked for one.

Overall, I am pretty content with how we did in 2018.

2019 will be some more of the same.

What are your plans for 2019?

Compost 2018

2018 has been a good year for us and bringing our food scraps back to the soil in the form of compost. Last year, in 2017, we collected over 215 pounds.

This year, we collected 227 pounds! And that was just from our home 5-gallon bucket!

Not only did we continue using Healthy Soil Compost for our monthly pick up service, but we also used them to compost at our wedding in June.

Our wedding and our 145 guests kept 139 pounds of organic material out of the landfill, which produced 10 pounds of finished compost and 100 pounds of greenhouse gas carbon emissions.

Also, just recently, I finally asked my place of employment why we had compostable plates/cups/bowls, but nowhere to compost to them. They are currently reaching out to compost pick up services around the city.

work compost

So that’s it for 2018!

Since we have started collecting in July of 2016, we have kept over 504 pounds of organic materials from the fate of the landfill. Which is really amazing when you think about it.

Ending the year on a high note!

I Finally Asked

I have been at my current job for almost a year and a half and work in a large office building in downtown Chicago.

Since then, I have always wondered why my office had compostable plates, bowls, and cups, but nowhere to compost them.

I never used those things while at work. I have my own cup and plate that I reuse, but there are PLENTY of people that use those compostable materials and I don’t doubt that they think its fine because they are compostable.

But they aren’t.

Because they are being tossed into the trash can.

Which goes to the landfill.

Where nothing decomposes.

I had originally tried to work up the courage to shake up the wasteful office culture like 11 months ago and unfortunately never followed through.

Now many months later, I finally worked up the courage to ask the facilities department why they provided these materials to their employees, but not the proper way to dispose of them. I also offered to provide any assistance in picking a composting service. After reviewing my email a million times, I took a deep breath and clicked send.

Later that day, I ran into our facilities manager in the hallway and he excitedly told me how glad he was that I had emailed him. Apparently, the original plan was for the office to get the compostable materials and then set up composting, but it fell to the wayside. There wasn’t someone to champion it! Hey, hey, that’s me! I told him I have used two different composting services in Chicago and he urged me to send over their details and contact information. I expertly pulled together the resources and sent them over.

So the ball is rolling! And I am proud of myself for finally doing it.

I plan to follow up soon to see if the contact ever occurred. I will keep you updated!

 

 

What I’ve Read Recently

I have been on a library kick lately.

So much so that I went into my Amazon list and removed all the books on my wishlist and added them to my “For Later” shelf in my Chicago Public Library account.

While basically zero of my books have been cozy-up-by-the-fire-and-finish-in-one-day-books, they have all been really enlightening and I read them on the bus commuting to work.

Here’s what I have been reading. Have you read any of these?

The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals

By: Michael Pollan

omnivores dilemma

source: amazon.com

Summary:

“Pollan follows each of the food chains that sustain us—industrial food, organic or alternative food, and food we forage ourselves—from the source to a final meal, and in the process develops a definitive account of the American way of eating. His absorbing narrative takes us from Iowa cornfields to food-science laboratories, from feedlots and fast-food restaurants to organic farms and hunting grounds, always emphasizing our dynamic coevolutionary relationship with the handful of plant and animal species we depend on.” – Michaelpollan.com

What I learned:

  • Next time you eat a chicken nugget really think about the taste. Does it actually taste like chicken?
  • Organic agriculture is almost as bad as conventional agriculture
  • Buying local is better for everyone involved

Dress with Sense

By: Christina Dean

Dress with Sense

source: amazon.com

Summary:

“This four-chapter guide will cater to your appetite to have a more conscious dress sense and will take you through how you can:

BUY better and make more responsible choices when hitting the shops

WEAR your clothes more creatively, and rescue hidden treasures from the depths of your wardrobe.

CARE for your clothes by learning better more environmentally friendly ways to wash

DISPOSE of them by swapping, gifting, donating or recycling – anything but throwing them in the trash!” – redress.com

What I learned:

  • Take care of your clothes
  • I need to learn how to sew more than a button or fix a hole
  • Avoid low-quality clothes, go for high-quality and then make it work for you
  • If your clothes don’t fit, take them to the tailor! I have a skirt and dress pants with the tailor right now

The Nature Fix: Why Nature Makes Us Happier, Healthier, and More Creative

By: Florence Williams

the nature fix

source: amazon.com

Summary:

“From forest trails in Korea, to islands in Finland, to groves of eucalyptus in California, Williams investigates the science at the confluence of environment, mood, health, and creativity. Delving into completely new research, she uncovers the powers of the natural world to improve health, promote reflection and innovation, and ultimately strengthen our relationships. As our modern lives shift dramatically indoors, these ideas—and the answers they yield—are more urgent than ever.”- florencewilliams.com

What I learned:

  • Take the more scenic route to work, its better for you even if it is longer
  • Listen to some nature sounds, birdsong preferably
  • Basically living in the city is terrible for you

Zero Waste Home: The Ultimate Guide to Simplifying your Life by Reducing your Waste

By: Bea Johnson

zero waste home

source: amazon.com

Summary:

“In Zero Waste Home, Bea Johnson shares the story of how she simplified her life by reducing her waste. Today, Bea, her husband, Scott, and their two young sons produce just one quart of garbage a year, and their overall quality of life has changed for the better: they now have more time together, they’ve cut their annual spending by a remarkable 40 percent, and they are healthier than they’ve ever been.” – zerowastehome.com

What I learned:

  • The zero waste queen didn’t start this lifestyle until later in life, so that means it’s never too late to start
  • Lots of good resources and recipes

Life Without Plastic: The Practice Step-by-step Guide to Avoiding Plastic to Keep your Family and the Planet Healthy

By: Chantal Plamondon

life without plastic

source: amazon.com

Summary:

“LIFE WITHOUT PLASTIC: The Practical Step-by-Step Guide to Avoiding Plastic to Keep Your Family and the Planet Healthy strives to create more awareness about BPA-based products, polystyrene and other single-use plastics, and provides readers with ideas for safe, reusable and affordable alternatives. By removing plastic from your home, you can reduce your environmental footprint, minimize threats to wildlife, support local businesses and live a healthier, simpler life.” – lifewithoutplastic.com

What I learned:

  • I really don’t like reading about all the ways plastic can kill us
  • That’s it so far, I just started this one!

Other books on my radar:

  • Ecological Intelligence: How Knowing the Hidden Impacts of What We Buy Can Change Everything, by Daniel Goleman
  • The More of Less: FInding the Life You Want Under Everything You Own, by Joshua Becker
  • Waste and Want: A Social History of Trash, by Susan Strasser
  • Plenty: One Man, One Woman, and A Raucous Year of Eating Locally, by Alisa Smith
  • Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life, by Barbara Kingsolver

Batteries Can Be Tossed

I often get asked what to do with stuff.

What do I do with plastic bags since they can’t go in the recycling blue bin? Where do I take pillows? And sheets and towels? Textiles that can’t be used? Salvation Army or Goodwill?

Recently my dad asked me if he has to recycle alkaline batteries, and not long afterward, a friend texted me the very same question.

batteries

Back in the day, your regular TV remote battery couldn’t be put into the municipal trash because they contained harmful mercury that could leach into waterways. Nowadays, batteries do not contain mercury, which is good.

In Chicago, alkaline batteries are accepted in the garbage cart, while rechargeable batteries are considered hazardous waste due to nickel cadmium and must be recycled accordingly.

These batteries can now safely go in the trash/landfill, which isn’t necessarily that great.

Yes, they can be thrown out (like a lot of things), but you can also go one extra step and find a place that recycles them. You can look up where to recycle your batteries here, and for the most part, it is going to depend on where you live and what your town or city collects.

So check it out and do something with that pile of dead batteries in your junk drawer.

Resources:

Going Back to The Way We Used to Shave

After nearly 15 years of using disposable razors and a couple years of waxing, I finally bought a menacing looking, old man, old-school safety razor.

safetyrazor1

I was a tad overwhelmed with the information available on the internet and wanted to speak to a real person in a physical store about all of my questions and concerns. So I turned to the resources at Zero Waste Chicago on where to shop for personal care products in the city.

I visited the downtown Merz Apothecary location and asked for help with the safety razors. Right away, I was given the employee’s undivided attention and he answered all my questions! What type of safety razor is good for a woman? What kind of blades do I get? If my husband also got a safety razor could we use the same type of blade? How often do I change the blade? How do I care for it? And on and on.

safetyrazor2

I ended up with a Merkur long handled razor. The longer handles are better for women and shaving legs, but even when the employee handed it to me, it didn’t seem that long at all. Being able to physically hold the razor and feel how it felt in my hand before purchasing it was invaluable.

As for the blades, the employee provided me with 2 different types that are good for first-time safety razor users. I have only tried one so far, but he suggested switching the blades out after 4-5 uses. While you can’t just toss the used razors in the recycling bin (safety hazard!), you can collect them in a “blade bank” such as a little jar, tin, or pill bottle. After enough blades have been collected, it can be thrown away or specially recycled depending on where you live.

safetyrazor3

I was pretty scared the first time I used it, but I watched a few YouTube videos and got in the tub. I didn’t immediately start bleeding and thought that was a good start. Now that I have been using the razor for a couple weeks I am happy to report that I have not cut myself once.

Pros:

  • Ideally, if I take care of my razor, which is made of steel, it should last forever
  • The blades are SO CHEAP
  • Since only one blade is running over your skin, there is less irritation, bumps, and ingrown hairs

Cons:

  • It takes a bit longer and requires a bit more attention
  • You need to disassemble your razor and let it dry after every use otherwise it will rust
  • Can be difficult to fly with (I have heard different things about not packing the blades in your carryon or being upfront with security about it, or just buying new razors wherever you land, or people using their old disposable razors when they travel instead to avoid that)

safetyrazor4

So far it has been going well, but there are a couple things to keep in mind when switching from a 5 blade lotion covered pink plastic disposable razor.

Things to Remember:

  • Hold the razor at a 20-30 degree angle
  • Do not apply pressure
  • Use short strokes
  • Be careful around knees, ankles, and shins
  • Rinse your blade after each stroke

Have you used a safety razor? Any thoughts or suggestions? Let me know!

**I was not in anyway compensated by Merz Apothecary or Merkur for my review