waste

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!

 

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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!

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

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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.

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.

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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!

 

 

Salvation Army Vs. Goodwill

When we clean out our closets, move, are making way for new things, or are deciding which items in our lives “spark joy,” there is bound to become a donation bag.

It may be the giveaway pile or donate box, whatever you call it, it has to go somewhere.

The old books you’ve already read can be handed off to a friend looking for a new summer read, sold on Craigslist, or posted on the many Buy Nothing Project groups for someone else to enjoy.

More often than not though, with our busy lives, it becomes just too much work to try and find a new home for your items and coordinate a time to have it picked up. So the items get dropped off at a donation center because you want the stuff out of your house NOW.

Recently, I was asked which was a better place to donate your pre-loved items, Goodwill or Salvation Army? I didn’t have a clear answer, so obviously this became a good blog topic.

Salvation Army

According to their mission statement, “The Salvation Army, an international movement, is an evangelical part of the universal Christian Church. Its message is based on the Bible. Its ministry is motivated by the love of God. Its mission is to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ and to meet human needs in His name without discrimination.

They work to meet all sorts of human needs from helping disaster survivors and stopping domestic abuse, to combating addiction and assisting the unemployed. Learn more about what they do here.

Donating clothing and goods to The Salvation Army helps fund addiction rehabilitation programs. You can donate at their Family Stores and drop-off locations or schedule a free pickup. We had The Salvation Army come to pick up our couch once. It was nice that they could take care of that.

According to CNN, the Salvation Army spends 82% of donations on aid and you can check out Salvation Army’s sustainable development goals here.

Goodwill Industries International

Goodwill is a nonpartisan nonprofit organization whose mission is “to enhance the dignity and quality of life of individuals and families by strengthening communities, eliminating barriers to opportunity, and helping people in need reach their full potential through learning and the power of work.” They seek to help all job seekers and in 2017, Goodwill helped more than 288,000 people find employment.

Donating your items to Goodwill helps create job opportunities by funding job training and services and they also claim it keeps billions of pounds of textiles and clothing from meeting their end in the landfill. You can calculate the impact of your donation on their website which is pretty cool. For instance, if I donate 5 shirts, that provides 31 minutes of on-the-job training.

But is that what really happens? This Huffington Post article does a good job of explaining what happens to your clothes when you drop them off at Goodwill. In reality, after the good stuff has been picked out and the unusable has become rags, the rest gets shipped overseas. I was not able to find anything that directly explained what they did with stuff when it didn’t sell, but here is a blog about their sustainability initiative.

What’s the Verdict?

It is up to you! Both are keeping materials from the landfill and helping others in the process. I am sure there are parts of each that some may not agree with, but both are better options than tossing your clothes in the garbage. To avoid having to go through all your clothes and donating every few months, be conscious of your purchases and only buy what you actually need, buy secondhand, or attend a clothing swap.

What are your thoughts?

Moving Box Madness

Almost immediately after our wedding, and then our honeymoon, K and I packed up our tiny apartment and said goodbye to our first place together.

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I was pretty sad about it because I get emotionally attached to things and places. There were so many good memories in that apartment!

What was even sadder though was the amount of waste that could have been if I had not been conscious of it the entire moving process.

The Boxes

We had some boxes saved in the basement from the previous move and purchased many, many more to pack up our belongings. On top of those boxes, we had tons of boxes from all of the registry items that we could finally fit into our apartment.

Just so many boxes.  Everywhere!

moving boxes

Just a small sample of the amount of boxes

Luckily, I was able to give away pretty much all of the moving boxes for them to be reused again. I gave some to my mom to pack up all those lanterns for our wedding, I posted some on Craigslist and gave some to a friend who was moving shortly after us.

The Plastic Bags

What was worse than the boxes, was the plastic packaging! As we opened new small appliances from our registry the amount of plastic bags just piled up to the point where I filled an entire gigantic bag with them.

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Recyclable plastic bags can be brought to your local grocery store and usually are not accepted in curbside recycling because the bags get caught in recycling machinery. So I just saved all the little bags until I filled up a big one and kept it in my car until I went to the grocery store next.

The Bubble Wrap

On top of the boxes and the plastic bags was the bubble wrap. So much if it. I have given some away, but still have plenty that I have posted on Buy Nothing Facebook groups. There have been a few leads, but no follow-ups so far. Any readers need some bubble wrap?!

While we usually purchase furniture pieces secondhand (we already bought a desk from Craigslist), we did get some new pieces that reminded me of why I hate ordering stuff.

For instance, our new bed frame was delivered 2 days early when K was out of town and was for some reason put down this unfinished set of stairs in the front of our apartment. It was so heavy that I couldn’t get it out alone and had to call in reinforcements. Thanks, Amazon.

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At least the bed frame came early because our new mattress didn’t show up at all. Through countless calls and legitimate hours on the phone with UPS, we ended up having to pick up our mattress from the customer pickup center. Not ideal.

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As destroyed as the box was, fortunately, the mattress itself was okay. Ugh, eye roll.

I am so glad that we are basically done with finding pieces we were missing for our new apartment. The boxes, the plastic, the styrofoam, it was just so overwhelming.

If you aren’t convinced yet, read Buzzfeed’s recent piece, “The Hidden Environmental Cost of Amazon Prime’s Free, Fast Shipping.” I for one am not a Prime member and happily accept the standard shipping.

The Oops Tag

I have been “recycling” in Chicago for over two years now and the other day finally saw something I had only heard of on the internet…

The Oops Tag.

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First of all, I say recycling in quotes because I do not fully believe that even half of what I have diligently cleaned and separated makes it to a recycling facility.

But anyway, these oops tags were rolled out by the Department of Streets and Sanitation last summer in an effort to educate Chicagoans about what can and cannot go in the blue bin.

The tag is supposed to be marked with what contaminant was found in the blue bin but looks like that did not happen in the above case.

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These blue bins were obviously not mine, but of a neighbor’s down the street. I noticed the tags as I walked through the alley, but I did not snoop in the bins to see what the issue was to warrant the tags.

While Chicago’s recycling rate is the pits, I am not sure these tags will do much to combat that. Now that I live in a building with an alley, people’s blue bins are much more accessible and people toss stuff in other people’s bins all the time. So controlling what happens in your bin is kind of difficult.

 

I Think I Finally Won

I think it happened.

It is finally over (maybe).

RedPlum coupons have not been on my doorstep the past 3 Tuesdays. The first Tuesday it was not there, I figured it to be a fluke. The second Tuesday, I got more hopeful. And the third Tuesday, made me feel triumphant!

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Victory!

This was not an easy victory, as I highlighted previously multiple times. It came at a price of being so consistently persistent that I vowed to tweet at the Chicago Tribune every week until it stopped showing up on my doorstep. Something no other sane Chicagoan would put themselves through.

I started on this journey back in January and tracked every piece of it.

  • January 9: Received an InsideShopper/RedPlum on my doorstep
  • January 9: Emailed insideshopper@chicagotribune.com to have our address removed
  • January 9: Received automated email response “Thank you for contacting the Chicago Tribune Inside Shopper department – your email is important to us. Please expect a response within 24 hours.”
  • January 10: Did not hear back in 24 hours.
  • January 11: A Twitter follower suggested using an online form to unsubscribe. I filled out the form.
  • January 16: Received an InsideShopper/RedPlum on my doorstep
  • January 23: Received an InsideShopper/RedPlum on my doorstep
  • January 30: Received an InsideShopper/RedPlum on my doorstep
  • February 6: Received an InsideShopper/RedPlum on my doorstep
  • February 13: Received an InsideShopper/RedPlum on my doorstep
  • February 20: Received an InsideShopper/RedPlum on my doorstep
  • February 22: Called the number listed to be removed and was told it would take 2-3 weeks.
  • February 27: Received an InsideShopper/RedPlum on my doorstep
  • March 6: Received an InsideShopper/RedPlum on my doorstep
  • March 13: Received an InsideShopper/RedPlum on my doorstep
  • March 20: Received an InsideShopper/RedPlum on my doorstep
  • March 20: Called again to be removed and asked if it would take 2-3 weeks, they said no.
  • March 26: Direct messaged RedPlum on Twitter
  • March 27: Received an InsideShopper/RedPlum on my doorstep
  • March 27: RedPlum responded to my Twitter message, saying: “Thank you. Your address was removed from our distribution list on 1/12/18. We are contacting the Chicago Tribune, who handles delivery in your area, to make them aware of the delivery error.”
  • April 3: Received an InsideShopper/RedPlum on my doorstep, called and tweeted at the Chicago Tribune

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  • April 10: Received an InsideShopper/RedPlum on my doorstep, called and tweeted at the Chicago Tribune. This time, they told me they would tell the delivery people that I have already called multiple times.

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  • April 17: Received an InsideShopper/RedPlum on my doorstep, called and tweeted at the Chicago Tribune

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  • April 17: Received a reply to my tweet from a Chicago Tribune digital editor

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  • April 19: Got a voicemail from Chicago Tribune customer service referencing my tweets. When I called back it was just the same number I had been calling for weeks. I asked for the representative who had left the voicemail (Lillian), the person on the phone could not get her.
  • April 24: Received an InsideShopper/RedPlum on my doorstep, called and tweeted at the Chicago Tribune

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  • April 25: Got another call from Lillian about my tweets. She asked for my address again (I have literally given it to them 25 times by now). She did inquire if I was the owner of the building because technically if RedPlum is being delivered to a building with multiple units, it is the owner who would have to go through this horrendous process. I assured her that no, I was not the owner, no one in my building wants it, and there was no way the owner would slave away at this. Lillian said she would follow up with the distributor and to allow 1-2 weeks for service to stop.
  • May 1: Did not receive
  • May 8: Did not receive
  • May 15: Did not receive

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So maybe, just maybe, I have won the battle with RedPlum and InsideShopper. I did not want to get too excited the first week it didn’t show, but I am hoping 3 weeks in a row means this has finally come to an end.

Thank goodness I succeeded because we are about to move! Fingers crossed our new building doesn’t get it or I am going to have to start all over. At least my current neighbors can thank me for ridding them of such unnecessary waste!