zero waste (part three)

Initiatives to combat climate change, from large corporations to regular individuals seem to be everywhere these days. I don’t if it’s because I was living with my head in a hole (full of waste), or because I follow several social media accounts that are dedicated to low waste lifestyles, but I feel empowered more than ever to adopt these environmentally-conscious ways.

I have said this before, but moving to our acreage one year ago was really kickstarted our new lifestyle. Because we do not have garbage pickup, we have become so aware of what we put into our garbage. We used to throw away a small bag of garbage a day, and recycle n o t h i n g. I shudder at that thought. Now, as a family of four, we only throw out one small bag every few days, recycle everything that is paper, plastic, or glass, and compost all of our food scraps (that we can’t give to our dogs).

Additionally, we have also stopped buying paper towel and cleaning products. I do not regret cutting paper towel out of our lives. My mother-in-law was kind enough to give us a bag full of rags from old towels that she no longer used. This was something that I had never even considered doing- enlisting in family and friends to donate their old cloths to you. Really, it’s serving you both! They are able to downsize and you gain more rags. Plus, its keeping more out of the landfill. Even with a baby and toddler, I do not find using rags any more difficult. In fact, they are gentler on skin, furniture, and surfaces. Remy and Wilder both have learned that if they ever spill anything, to go into the drawer, pull out a rag, and clean it up! Wilder is only 15 months old and he does this on his own. It’s hilarious! Plus, we are saving a lot of money. Why would we ever go back?

As for cleaning supplies, I am actually grateful to be using vinegar as opposed to commercially-made ones that are filled with harmful chemicals. A few months ago I had a bowl of vinegar and water on the counter because I was cleaning our microwave. I turned my back and started making lunch for the kids, when suddenly I hear “Yuck, lemon juice is gross. My tongue hurts” from Remy. She was standing beside the bowl. I was confused at first, then realized that she must have picked it up and drank from it. I started panicking and asked her if she swallowed some. She saw the panic on my face and she looked like she was going to cry. I said, “it’s ok honey. Just tell mommy if you tried some.” She said that she did. Then I realized that it’s just vinegar, and although was probably really disgusting, could not harm her. It’s not like it was a bowl of Green Works, Mr. Clean, or any other harmful substance. Incredibly relieved, I hugged her and told her to not try anything without asking me first. That is one reason why I will not start buying cleaning products ever again. Natural is the safest way to go.

We have replaced plastic bags with reusable bags and only run the washing machine and dishwasher once a week. When we do, we put the washing machine on the fastest setting (express) and the dishwasher on the shortest cycle (1 hour). We still try to hang dry most of our clothes indoors during the winter months, and outdoors during the summer. All of this helps save on water and power.

Lastly, we have been putting our bottle recycling to good use. Only recently I have dedicated Fridays to doing something fun with the kids. We don’t have any activities that day, so we use the morning to go swimming, or to a museum, etc. Sometimes we do something free, like the library. However, if we do pay for admission somewhere, I aim to use the money that we get from SARCAN. It’s not like we can’t afford it. I prefer to do it because it’s more of an initiative to take our bottles into a recycling depot. In the end, it is like our activities are free, which to me make them more rewarding!

Now that we have the updates out of the way, here are more ways that we have been reducing our waste since my last post:

Thrifting

I have made a promise to myself that 2020 will be the year of thrifting. More specifically, I will buy no new clothing items for myself for an entire year! Everything that I do purchase must be secondhand. Why, you ask? Well new clothing creates a lot of waste. On average it takes 700 gallons of water to make one shirt, and 2000 gallons to make one pair of jeans. Furthermore, a staggering amount of textiles end up in the trash bin each year. In 2014, the fashion industry created over 16 million tons of waste, 10 million of which went into landfills. If we were all to give our clothes to consignment or donation stores, one person’s “trash” becomes another person’s treasure. What is no longer new to them is now new to someone else.

It does not go without saying that another huge benefit will be all of the money that I will be saving this year! In January alone I purchased three tops (one to sell on eBay) and one dress from secondhand stores- each averaging $7 an item. If I would have bought these items brand new, I would have easily spent closer to $200 rather than $28. And that was just in one month! Suffice it to say that this is one of the aspects of our new lifestyle that I am most excited about changing.

Gifts

I am normally a buyer and not maker of gifts. I think that I have preferred doing it this way mostly due to saving time. However, ever since Christmas I have been making an honest effort to make gifts for our neighbours and children’s friends rather than buying them. The same goes with cards. Not only are cards costly but roughly 2.5 million trees are cut down each year just for greeting cards alone! I think that it is better to create your own card, or even just skip out on a card.

So what exactly do we make? One thing that I have been doing more of is giving the gift of food. At Christmas we gave our neighbours baking. Normally I would have put together baskets of little toys and treats for Remy’s friends and preschool class for Valentine’s Day, but instead I made them cookies and other sweets. I realize that this can’t be done for every holiday and occasion, but once in awhile, it can easily replace purchasing something non-biodegradable that will eventually end up in the trash. Try it!

Home Cooked vs Bought

Now that we are discussing homemade foods, I must bring up one of the biggest changes we have made- I have been baking our bread, buns, and bagels rather than purchasing them at the grocery store. Now this might not seem like it would make that big of an impact, but just think about it. Each loaf of bread, package of bagels, or a dozen buns usually come in a plastic bag. My family goes through a loaf of bread or thing of bagels every few days. Say that is two plastic bags a week, that equals 104 bags a year. Or three plastic bags a week is then 156 excess bags a year. The answer? A bread box and tinfoil.

Now when I make bread from scratch I make two loaves at a time. One immediately goes into this beautiful bread box which gets stored in our pantry. The other gets wrapped in tinfoil and placed in the freezer. Once we take it out and unwrap the bread we then recycle the foil! No waste is being created in this process, and by making our bread we are cutting down the use of plastic bags dramatically. Plus, it is cheaper and tastes better than buying store-bought bread. (Here is my favourite recipe that yields two loaves in two hours and tastes delicious.) 

While I realize that it does take longer to bake bread than to buy it, it is a switch that is definitely worth the time. You don’t have to bake ever single loaf, even doing a few a year saves you money and plastic from ending up in the landfill.

Meatless Meals

I previously discussed in this post how Geoffrey and I have agreed to implement one meatless meal per week. I felt like that change deserved a spot here too. Now there is much controversy about cutting back on meat consumption in order to fight climate change. The livestock industry reportedly produces more greenhouse gases than all transportation worldwide. However, cutting down on meat would obviously hurt local cattle and dairy farmers. Some farmers argue that grass-fed cows actually improve their fields by making way for new grass to grow. Other reports state that in order to significantly cut down your carbon footprint, you will need to transition to a mostly or completely vegan diet. That said, one meatless meal for one family every week may not create a huge difference, but like all of our other efforts, we have to start somewhere.

Renovating Rooms

Even though our entire house needs to be renovated, I think it’s important to reuse and incorporate items that are neither not new nor new to us in these made-over rooms. For instance, everything you see on that shelf was from our old house. The picture frames range from 2-11 years old, the lamp has been in a multitude of rooms over the last few years (finally ending up here), and the hanging planter was in our previous bedroom. We reused our white bedding, and after wanting a pop of colour, I rediscovered those cute yellow pillowcases in our antique wardrobe after buying and storing them away 8 or so years ago. They haven’t seen the light of day until now! My Baba crocheted the grey blanket at the foot of our bed for her couch before passing away. That probably holds the most sentiment for me. Finally, the oversized wood bench is actually part of our kitchen table set. The only things that we purchased brand new in this frame were the ceiling fan and the yellow throw pillow, the latter of which we bought locally. By simply recycling objects from other rooms or from other people, it can make a room feel new again.

Emory

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becoming a zero waste household

This post will be one in a series of our new zero waste journey.

Now I have been pretty horrible in regards to taking care of our planet up until this point. We had bins for recycling when we lived in the city. I rarely used them. I gave Truman our table scraps and then threw out what he didn’t eat. I didn’t conserve water. I ran the dishwasher, washing machine, and dryer nearly everyday. I let the tap run excessively when I washed my face or washed my hands. The list goes on.

Since moving to our acreage, we have began to adopt a more waste-free lifestyle. It all began when I read this Instagram post on composting:

In recent years, only an estimated 38% of food was composted in the US. Food scraps make up about 30% of everything we throw out 😱 not only that, when we send our food scraps to the landfill, they decompose with no air, creating the greenhouse gas methane – a gas that is 34x more potent than CO2.⁣

Composting diverts food scraps from landfills and creates rich, nutrient soil that can be used to grow more food- it is truly circular!⁣

Then I went on to read this one:

“So why is it so important to keep organic matter out of landfill anyway? Won’t it just breakdown there? Well basically, no.⁣
.⁣
Landfill areas are so densely compacted that there is not enough microbes, air, light or moisture for organic matter to breakdown. Did you know that they have found 20+ year old intact carrots in landfill!?! Compared to my worms who could break down a blended carrot in a couple of hours…⁣
.⁣
When organic mater does begin to breakdown in landfill, it does so anaerobically (without oxygen), which produces greenhouse gases as a byproduct.⁣
.⁣
So by throwing your organic scraps into your kerbside bin you’re ensuring they probably wont break down – and if they do, they’ll produce green house gases.

After that, I was convinced. I told Geoff that we were going to start composting that day, and he was on board. He went outside a few days later, and built me a bin out of spare wood that we had laying around.

Now we keep a large container with a lid inside of our house where we collect everything. Then once a day, or every second day, we go outside and empty it into our compost pile. I can’t wait until we are able to use it in our garden!

Because we have to get our water hauled to us, we conserve conserve conserve. We have a 1500 gallon tank in our basement. I do the dishes in the sink every morning, making sure to not fill the sink too full. We don’t flush the toilet with every trip to the bathroom. Instead of bathing once or twice a day, I instead have a quick shower every second day. The kids, on the other hand, share a bath once a day. I wash our clothes only once a week, and hang them out to dry instead of using our dryer. We only turn the taps on low and quickly turn them off whenever we are done.

Our liquids get pumped to a spray field in our yard while our solids go to a septic tank.

We are also collecting rainwater from the eaves on the garage for all of our outdoor plants.

At the moment, I am striving towards eliminating all paper towel from our household. Producing paper towel consumes 110 million trees and 130 billion gallons of water per year. I am in the process of cutting up old towels and shirts to use them as rags. I hope to stop buying paper towel by the end of the month!

Finally, because we do not have garbage pickup, we now make a point of separating our recycling and bottles out of our trash. We take those in, and store our garbage in a bin behind our garage until it is ready to go to the dump. For now, that is our solution.

Stay tuned for my next post on further changes toward leading a more waste-free household.

Emory

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