Monday, June 13, 2011

Our "crazy" Changes

Like many here in the Portland Metro area I was very disappointed when the plastic bag bill (on the most recent ballot here in OR) didn't pass. To me it seems like such an obvious way to reduce needless waste promoted by our consumer driven culture of convenience. I am consistently frustrated by how much it seems we pat ourselves on the back for providing recycling services, and requiring bottle deposits to promote "greener" ideas - yet - we fail to actually reduce waste by eliminating excessive use of materials for the sake of having an easy way to carry our two or three items to the car while talking on our cell phone.

Plastic bags are not the only problem... or even a large part of the problem that is our disposable society. I have been thinking a lot about the mountains of garbage our community generates each month. Food packaging,  and all sorts of plastics and other petroleum based products. How that stuff just sits there in the soil... how those molecules that make up a bottle or diaper or whatnot are stuck and won't become usable again in my lifetime... or my kids' we only have a finite amount of molecules to use on this planet -- for the rest of the planet's existence...  How this is an obvious fact, yet we act like there's no limit.

Zach and I have had several conversations on why these facts don't seem to translate into real change in the way businesses operate; reducing (and in best cases eliminating) waste generated by creating, selling, and using a product. The conversations always come back to the fact that businesses only do what the consumers demand.

So we've decided, as consumers, that we are going to make some changes around our little patch of land.

I was pleasantly surprised when Zach brought up something about us doing better.  He said he liked the idea of reducing waste and thought changing the way we consume things could lead to a healthier overall lifestyle.  I gotta tell you I was quite smitten when he was talking like that.

Having a plan and making some progress reduces my anxiety. Drawing inspiration from Zero Waste Family, we would like to take some steps to reduce waste and clutter in our life.  This will be done in many steps that will take many years, but I hope to always be making some progress.

We anticipate that if we stick to it, we would see the following benefits (in addition to the obvious environmental ones):
1.  Less clutter and trinkets in our house -- less mess, less time cleaning, less stress and anxiety for me.
2.  Better eating habits.  Avoiding packaging means avoiding a lot of processed food.  Buying in bulk encourages cooking from scratch.  It will also encourage us to eat more seasonal food and try new foods.
3.  Saving money.  It might cost a little more at first, but I know that avoiding packaged foods, goods with a lot of packaging, and generally avoiding stuff that we don't absolutely need will save us money.
4.  Less stress.  With less stuff, there is less stress.  With less options, there is less stress.
5.  Reducing amount of plastic that comes into contact with our food.
6.  Simpler life.

Overall goals are:
1.  Reduce or Refuse     2.  Reuse     3.  Recycle (only as a last resort)

In the first phase of our goal we have set out to do the following:

  • Do not bring any plastic bags home.  Be prepared with reusable bags at the store.  No need to bag produce.  Use reusable bags for bulk items (we have been doing most of this, except for the bulk).
  • Bring glass containers to the butcher counter to avoid plastic and/or paper wraps.
  • Call, email, do whatever it takes to reduce junk mail (started last week -- it can take a lot of time)
  • Do not purchase anything in a plastic bottle.  Drinks in glass bottles are ok (glass is just about the most recyclable material there is.  Plastic and paper are actually down-cycled)
  • Do not buy anything in cartons, glass only for milk and cream (have already been doing that)
  • Stop using disposable wipes (this will be harder now, but I think I can do it)
  • Compost all compost-able food bits.  
  • Buy bulk whenever possible.  Right now this includes: flour, sugar, salt, oatmeal, detergent, pasta, rice, quinoa, raisins, snacks, and honey.  
  • Do not use trash can liners
  • Buy toilet paper that is wrapped in paper instead of plastic bags
  • No paper products such as tissues, paper napkins, paper towels, single-use dishes or utensils (already do this).
  • No zip-lock type baggies (already doing this)
  • Reusable feminine products
In the next couple of weeks we're looking into:
  • Getting sour cream/cottage cheese in glass 
  • Making our own yogurt
  • Finding cheese that is not wrapped in plastic
Some of these changes seem downright unnatural: Zach is strangely unnerved by the idea of bringing meat home from the grocer in glass jars (may have something to do with a twilight zone episode he saw as a child with human brains being stored in glass containers). In the end though, we feel we can only benefit from this experiment. 

We've felt very inspired by the stories of those who are living this way now, and can only hope to inspire a few others to try it too. You don't need to go cold turkey and adopt a completely "zero waste" lifestyle overnight... but try taking one or two things you do that might contribute to unnecessary waste and think of some ways to eliminate that waste. You may find it is easier and more convenient than you think.


Courtney B said...

let me know how it goes @ new seasons buying meat in glass jars! although we have planned to buy no meat... i am sure there will be some rare times that we might.

also, making your own yogurt is SOOOO easy. i have been doing in the last few weeks and it is easier than buying it at the store, no joke. (well, that is if you were making a separate trip JUST to buy the yogurt ;) hehe)

also, i haven't done the research yet because we have had like a year supply of TP over here, but i want to switch to the paper wrapped kind. where do you buy that? i haven't seen it at new seasons! because i have stock piled, some of my similar goals have been put on hold since we were not yet out of our previously packaged junk :) but, TP is one of the last things that is like that.

Ksenia said...

Courtney -- I'm glad I have you as a friend because you are probably the only person other than Zach that doesn't think I'm totally nuts and ridiculous :)

I would LOVE you to show me how you make yogurt! I've read about different methods (heatin pad, slow cooker...) but would love to know what works for you. Lucas goes through a lot of yogurt each week.

Ellen Glek said...

If you do all these things I will be so proud of you! We spent 3 days in the New Zealand town of Kaikoura where there is NO garbage service, just recycling, and everyone composts on their own lot. I didn't realize this until after we came back from the grocery store and then I regretted not putting thought into the containers my food came in. What to do with the foil/plastic seal over my juice jug? It's shiny, so stick it with the metal recycle, they advised. Love that town.

I still rarely use my head when I shop, instead just going for what I want at the price I want. I would love to start bringing my own produce bags.. that is something I can do!

On composting: As summer heats up and becomes dryer, I'm having trouble with flies. Make sure to turn your compost pile daily or every 2-3 days with a pitchfork (kinder than slicing up half your worm population).

Ksenia said...

Ellen! I forgot that I know you too and that you would be supportive too! Yay!

What an awesome concept -- no garbage service! I'm sure there can be some downsides to that, but lots of benefits too. Our society is just too stuck on everything being ridiculously packaged and convenient at the expense of the next generations.

You are AWESOME for all your biking stuff. I am considering getting a trike for grocery shopping. But I would need to figure out how to pull kids in there too. RIght now we walk to New Seasons a lot.

Georgia said...

Um hello!!! I am SO supportive of this you don't even know! I actually wrote a paper on a very similar subject! Im so happy you are doing this! Way to go Ksenia! I have been slowly transitioning in many of these directions but im definately going to take advantage of your savvy! Be the change you want to see! :)

Ksenia said...

Georgia! YAY! thanks for being supportive! Would love to read your paper on this topic. The whole thing definitely requires a sloooooooow transition or else it's too easy to give up. (Be the change... quote was our graduation quote :)

Kimberly said...

I'm so excited for you! This is a huge step and a long journey but I know you guys will rock it. Sean and I are definitely thinking *more* this way than ever before...we are composting, trying to buy things in glass jars, etc. But I envy your ambition to do this to this extreme. I wish I felt I had the energy and (financial) resources!

Darcy Taylor said...

I certainly don't think any of this is strange, and I think most people are going to be supportive of you, even if they aren't doing these things themselves. At least in Oregon :)

I do a few of the things on your list, but I have soooo much room for improvement. As I am reading your blog, Grae is outside playing obsessively with a huge plastic sand/water table that we just got. Hmm. I try very hard to buy wood or recycled plastic toys usually, but sometimes I just don't have the money, am not impressed with what I can find used, don't have the time or energy to make something myself (out of wood, for example), or the properties of plastic happen to function best for whatever I am trying to accomplish (a table that holds water and is lightweight and weather resistant, for example). Plastic is just so darn inexpensive and convenient. It can do and be basically anything we want it to do and be. I wish there was something just like it that is biodegradable.

The meat in a jar thing kind of creeps me out too. Not sure why. When I watched the video of the Zero Waste Home sometime ago, that was the only thing that I raised my eyebrows at. The other thing that would really bother me would be to not use plastic garbage bags. I am always grossed out if anything leaks out of the bag into the bottom of the pail. What would you do about raw meat pieces, for example? (Assuming you are not entirely vegetarian). Those things cannot be composted, right? Would you just clean your garbage pail every time you emptied it? I guess it is just an inconvenience, which is what tends to come with any of these changes. Cloth diapers can certainly be an inconvenience, but I do that :)

About yogurt. I just looked up how to make greek yogurt, since I am in love with that. All you do is strain regular yogurt to remove the water and whey. Look for it on google.

And the Costco toilet paper rolls are individually wrapped in paper, but come in a huge package held together with plastic. Not sure if that meets the criteria you are looking for. I have yet to see an entire huge package wrapped in paper. I guess if it came in a cardboard box. Maybe that could be found through a bulk commercial supplier.

When my life is not consumed by a new baby, I will make some of these changes with you. You can help me out with things you have learned.

Darcy Taylor said...

I should clarify that my list of reasons why plastic is so great was not meant to support the use of plastic. All of those reasons for using it (less expensive, more convenient, works well, etc) can be overcome somehow in almost all situations, but it requires a change in expectations and even lifestyle (as you have already said). Your kid plays with sand and water in metal buckets or a recycled ceramic sink, for example. Today, that would be hard for me to accept for some reason (you have to see how great this sand/water table is!), but I can see myself altering how I think overtime so that I prefer the bucket and sink scenario to the plastic version.

Mandee said...

I think many people think it's a little "crazy" to get rid of all they own and move their family to Africa and devote their lives to those in need, but at the same time are in awe of those that do. I think you guys are in the same category of "crazy"... it's a loose your mind in the service of the world type of crazy... a very admirable crazy that most people won't achieve but all would benefit from striving for... even if it's sloooow tiny baby steps :)

Goals for myself: plant garden, compost, make own yogurt (you need to teach me how when you get back from camp, Courtney!).

PS. As I read this I could almost hear Zach's, "Me and my girl taking care of this world" song... too cute. Go team Everton!

Nastia said...

We need plastic bags for cat poo :(

Emily said...

Ksenia you are so inspiring because you are SO consistent in what you believe and in your core values. That is amazing that you have such lofty goals. I think it is important for people to realize that recycling should be a last resort, this concept really opened my eyes when I was reading an article about it a while back. More power to ya!

Mandee said...

Had to add this to my comment. I communicate best through music video :)