Sunday, January 29, 2017

Revisting My Wasteless Resolutions

Since we just started a brand-spankin' new year, I figured what better time to see how I am doing on my resolutions for 2016 - 17? Most of these resolutions are, of course, geared towards being less wasteful. I find it really helpful to set realistic goals for myself and check their progress to see what I need to adjust or keep the same. NOTE: (This was drafted midway through 2016, revisiting it now in 2017!)

Below are this past year's goals and how I feel I have done concerning each one:

1. Stop getting unrecyclable/uncompostable items from fast food places. Only buy what can be recycled/composted. 
Well, goal met! I still eat out, a lot, and in some ways eat out more now than ever thanks to weekly girl's night ;). The only difference is now mainly I support restaurants and "fast food" places with sustainable practices and easy to compost wrapping. These restaurants include Chipotle, Panera, & Taco Bell (along with other "dine-in", fast-casual and other restaurants, a blog post coming soon about this!). Bringing my own containers/mugs/cups really helps with this too, and most places are more than happy to accommodate me and my containers. I have also gotten more brave in asking if my container can be filled, no matter where I go, which used to be really hard more me.

2. Focus more on refusal and less on recycling. It's too easy to be lured into plastics and disposables when I tell myself, "Oh, I can just recycle it". Remember the 5 R's.
My recycling output has been reduced so much this year that I would consider this resolution met, though I still have recyclables. A lot of that has to do with doing more bulk research in my area and finding stores where I can buy more in bulk. For me a big issue was finding sugar, flour, and spices in bulk - I have since found my solution at Whole Foods which is far from my home but close to work. As a result of shopping more in bulk, I just about fill up my bin every two weeks with recyclables, and while there is some plastic there is a lot less of it; I try hard to buy things only in glass, metal, or cardboard. What is left, that I can't find easily in glass, metal, or cardboard, I opt for the most recyclable plastic I can find. Usually what is in my bin that is plastic is what is currently unavoidable for me (like ketchup, Dr. Bronner's bottles, agave name a few) or too time consuming difficult to make (ketchup, almond milk, etc.). I also began donating a lot of cardboard to my classroom's "Inventor Center", where kids can take materials out of to create with.

3. Phase out of using toilet paper, or at least do a trial period without. My dream would be an attachable bidet, which isn't too expensive.
Something about this puts me off. Maybe I'm a germaphobe, not sure, but going without TP for #2's really freaks me out for some reason. I feel so much cleaner with water than toilet paper though, and using a squishy water bottle as a "make-do" bidet works great for #1's. It's just the #2's I gotta get over. Goal not met (yet). Still working on a good system for the bathroom.

4. Buy more items used, especially items that can be just as easily obtained used. Take the time to research.
I have and have not done well on this. I bought a lot of my home wares, clothing, and other every day items from Goodwill. Goodwill has been surprisingly good at supplying anything I could have asked for at a given time. However, what I couldn't find at Goodwill I bought new...but could have easily bought used if I waited/looked a little harder.  I will be trying harder next year to source as much as I can second-hand and to not "jump the gun" so quickly on purchases. Let's say goal halfway met. UPDATE: As mentioned in my last post, I had a really hard time this year finding what I needed used so resorted to buying a lot of new, and while I did think hard about these purchases I felt terrible buying new. Ugh. Maybe goal not met at all. I will say while new, and while some was from companies whose eco-friendly values I questions, a good number of items were from other companies whose values I stand behind (handmade, made in the USA, ecofriendly processes and materials) and while new (and more expensive) I do not regret these purchases at all as the items have paid for themselves in usefulness.

5. Continue thinking hard about purchases and take my time before buying, especially new. Consider all aspects of purchase, from beginning to end. Research, research, research!
See above paragraph for this goal. I will say where I struggled earlier this year with purchases, now I have become almost unbearably strict when it comes to purchases now it can easily take me weeks to decide if I want to buy something. Now I just gotta put my words in action. UPDATE: I definitely would say this goal is basically met, as I really think hard about whether or not I need something, and all factors like how it was made, what it is made out of, and more! I think really hard about purchases now and do lots of research, and try to only support companies/shops that align with my values.

6. Remember that to have a life and not sacrifice it in the name of environmentalism. Some things just cannot be avoided just yet, and that's OK.
This was a hard one for me, but a goal I think I've done much better on. I used to get so upset about my waste not fitting into a jar, beating myself up for small mistakes, and in general having a hard time not letting zero-waste take up a lot of my daily thoughts (as mentioned in my previous post). I think unchecked, zero-waste could easily be slightly addictive for me. I have since learned to let go, take things in stride, and realize I have limitations based on where I live and what I can afford. I'll make do for now, and while I won't do away with my original goal of a yearly jar of waste, I will learn how to get closer and closer to it each year as best I can. Goal met.

7. Tackle composting again.
Done, and DONE! I bought a large composter from a neighbor at a yard sale and it's out in my yard now. All of my food scraps, leaves, clippings, hair, nails, and anything else organic are all there. I'm amazed by how much has gone into the composter and how much room is still left in that thing. This goal has definitely been met! My compost sits in a bucket in my freezer until it is filled and ready to be dumped.

Lastly, how have I done on my goal of only 1 trash bag per year? Well, in short, I DID IT! I went from May of 2015 to now (2016) and produced a nearly full trash bag (still has plenty of space left). I still would like to reduce my trash further, but for now I am happy knowing I have met my goal. I think filling 1 bag per year would be my remaining, steadfast goal for the rest of my lifetime. I feel very confident I can make this year much less wasteful because when I did go through that bag searching for items for my commemorative art project, I was struck by how much was completely avoidable and in some cases gluttonous. I could have done so much better, and that gives me hope for the year to come.

Some new zero-waste specific goals I would like to add, specifically for 2017, are:
  1. NO plastic straws - !!!
  2. Be more consistent with keeping zero-waste kit in car/bag and taking it EVERYWHERE
  3. Don't use vacuum - sweep! (And sweep regularly)
  4. Try bars of soap for laundry detergent (or soap nuts)
  5. Eat out less (1-2 times per week)
  6. Buy no new clothing or try a "no new clothing" trial period of a few months (once wardrobe is better established)
  7. Be more zero-waste in classroom - make changes as needed (blog post coming soon, very excited!)
And I'm sure there will be more. That's all for now! See ya next time. xoxox

Sunday, January 22, 2017

I failed...kinda.

This draft has been sitting here for months. I think I am able to finish it now. I am going to apologize upfront and say this, while mostly organized, is really rambly and months of personal thoughts, so get settled because this may take a while.

These past few months threw me for a loop. I got a new job (my first real-deal job since college) and since I had been so focused on that, I neglected this blog. I have also spent a few months wrestling with veganism, minimalist, and zero-waste practices in my life, and in general feeling like a big ol' failure a lot of the time. It may seem like these lifestyles overlap, and they do for the most part, but there are some glaring issues when they combined that can make fulfilling those lifestyle choices perfectly very difficult. For example, when it comes to food, vegan options where I live are almost always packaged (like cheese, milk, tofu, etc.) and so while they are vegan, they are not zero-waste. Minimalism and zero-waste can even find conflict, when you find the perfect item you need but it happens to be made out of 100% plastic that is not recyclable or compostable at the end of it usable life. Or, the fact that I keep a set of dishes and silverware I have no use for other than to avoid using disposables for guests or when I host parties. They take up an entire shelf in my tiny kitchen, so which value do I compromise on - being zero-waste or being minimalist?

For a few months it was really bad and I was being very hard on myself about it, feeling almost like a fraud and a traitor to what I was spewing out here. I've since let go of some of those feelings, and while it doesn't feel great to do what feels like backtracking on my ideals, I feel strangely happier about it all. I think a big part was just figuring out the appropriate levels of zero-waste and veganism I should have, comfortably, in my life, in order to continue those lifestyle choices with gusto.

Too often zero-waste blogs only show the "pretty" side of things, where everyone adheres to all of the zero-waste "rules" perfectly and everything is just peachy. While this is certainly a good thing (and I am being just a touch dramatic) it kinda sucks seeing those blogs sometimes when you can't or don't follow all the "rules". I know I'm not the first person to talk about this (see Fort Negrita's post about a similar topic here), nor is this my first blog post about the subject. It's just that sometimes it does seem to be a rarity for people to talk candidly about their personal zero-waste failures. And what I mean by that is instead of choosing the zero-waste choice, you choose the wasteful option. Instead of saying no straw, you say nothing. That sort of thing.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Zero-Waste Glue and Trash Art Projects

For a few posts now I have mentioned I am making an art project in hopes of diverting some of my yearly waste from landfill as well as to commemorate my first year going zero-waste. I have been struggling with how to do this, as I do not purchase glue bottles or much glue at all anymore and got rid of my hot glue gun and glue sticks last year. I wanted to "naturalize" my art making process and tools, and glue was one of the first things to go. I have been stumped for a while on this topic until I remembered a wheat-paste (flour glue) recipe I made once online. It worked really well for paper and papier-mache, that much I knew - but would it work for the variety of trash I had?

What the canvas looked like in the beginning stages of the projects
I made the glue and tried it out on my chosen canvas. I applied a thin layer of the homemade glue onto the surface of the canvas and squished the object into it. I then painted a layer of glue over the object and moved on to another area of the canvas until it was filled. I filled the canvas with as much as I could and then decided to let it dry to see what happened before I went further.

Ya'll - this glue WORKS. I knew it would work on paper and other porous material, but it worked on plastic too! I am amazed. Obviously, if I sat and tried to pry off some things on the canvas they would probably come off, but I can shake, move, rotate, and otherwise handle the canvas as normal with nothing dropping off. I used things like foil packs, plastic spoons/straws, stickers candy wrappers, wine bottle labels, and Command Strip wrappers, which all stuck to the canvas beautifully.

What the glue looks like when it is just about done

1 cup flour

4 cups water
2 tbsp sugar (preservative + strengthener, add at the end to avoid caramelization)
2 tbsp salt (preservative, add anytime as long as it dissolves)
2 tbsp alum (preservative, add anytime)

Combine all ingredients in stock pot. Whisk mixture constantly to avoid clumps (CRUCIAL). Add other ingredients as desired. Heat to near boiling (took a few minutes, but you can tell because mixture is hot, thickening, and bubbles are juuuust about to pop through the surface). Turn off heat at this point and continue mixing until mixture thickens. It will continue to thicken as it cools but can be used immediately. 

I store mine in a large mason jar (probably larger than I really needed) and pour out what I might use at a given time into a small bowl or cup and use my everyday, multipurpose paintbrush with it. It washes out of the brush and container very well, which is another great feature of this glue; in addition to being all natural and CHEAP, it is completely reversible and can be dissolved easily with water. You could use it to reversibly wallpaper just about anything.

You can also re-coat areas with the glue, which will really just reinforce them and make them stronger. The only downside to this glue is that it has a finite shelf life and will go bad after a period of time. I recommend adding in salt, sugar, and alum to help prolong the shelf life of the glue and try to make only what you can use at a time (or, find a way to use it all up before it goes bad). I would also suggest not making more than you really think you need; make what you think you can use and worst case scenario make more! ;) Otherwise, it's a great, all-natural, zero-waste option for folks (like me) who need a strong, sturdy, but forgiving glue.

Project currently, before gesso and paint
Anyway, onto the project. Like I said before, I was using a large variety of trash. Most of it ended up being flat or somewhat easily flattened, as I did not want my canvas to be too three-dimensional. I plan on painting over top of this textured canvas I am creating, so while some texture and added dimensions are nice I wanted a surface I could still easily paint on. First I need to gesso it! I'll have more pictures of that process coming soon, just wanted to share what I was working on and what has (surprisingly) worked well for me transitioning to a zero-waste art practice.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Zero-Waste Summer Fun

Hello everyone! As a kid, I used to hate summer. Too hot, too sweaty. Too many bugs. Too much sun. Summer and I just did not get along. As an adult that all changed. First, I became a minimalist, which forced me to put more value on experiences and memories rather than material possessions, which I am forever grateful for. Going out and about for festivals, outings, trips, and events has made this year one of my most memorable so far. I've noticed I have saved so much time as a minimalist, due to lack of things to care for, less time cleaning, etc., and instead of wasting that time on useless activities or social media, I spend it with my dog or husband; with family and friends; outside in nature or in the garden; or doing other things that are truly fulfilling, that I wholeheartedly enjoy that give me a great sense of peace and purpose.

Secondly, going vegan enabled me to tolerate heat better and sweat less, or so I think. Sweating less as a vegan could be totally scientifically unfounded, but after years of suffering through heat I find this year, the year I went vegan, it's so much easier for me to handle the heat enjoyably. I sweat so much less and don't feel so overwhelmed by the humidity and heat, which, in Virginia, can be INSANE. I also tend to eat much more water-based meals (veggies, fruits, melons, etc.) that I think contribute to the reduced sweating/body temperature regulation. I also drink or "eat" far more water than I did previously, which indefinitely helps in the heat.

Lastly, going zero-waste and focusing on natural, breathable fabrics has made being outside more enjoyable too. While I sweat less than I used to, I still sweat, and find linen and cotton my go-to fabrics for summer. They both dry quickly, especially linen, and are very light and breathable, reducing my suffering in the heat.

One of my biggest challenges (in addition to these successes) this year has been how to stay zero-waste when visiting so many new places, taking trips, and going to events where I don't know if it's even possible to stay zero-waste. Fortunately, with a bit of planning I have been able to stay zero-waste no matter where I go.

This is especially important to me this time of year because every July is Plastic Free July (see blog sticker right for more info). I am participating in PFJ for the first time this year, and have already done well so far with these tips below. I don't want to sacrifice my fun for zero-waste's sake, nor do I want to condemn the planet so I can have enjoyment. I think we all need to strike a balance between the two.

1. My biggest tip would always be to research where you are going before your trip. Most places have websites or social media pages with info and FAQ's about the event or place you are visiting. Do some thorough searching to get a feel for what to expect as well as what you might need to bring to stay zero-waste. I've found a lot of events on Facebook are more than willing to answer your ZW questions directly on their wall or through DM. Even a simple email can help you plan your trip. Never be too shy to ask questions!

2. Try your best to support events/restaurants that align with your values. If I, as a vegan, spent money on a BBQ fest, I think most can agree I'd be wasting my time and money. Try to focus on events that align with what you believe and want to support. There were two such events in my area, Eco-Fest and Veggie Fest, though I'm sure there are plenty more. I chose those two as ones to attend as they clearly align with my beliefs and lifestyle.

3. Or, go to places that allow you to bring your own food/containers, such as beaches, lakes, parks, campgrounds...just be sure to not litter the area and leave it better than you found it!

4. If at a theme park, like Busch Gardens (my fave), purchase their reusable cups you can use through the entire season.

Busch Garden's cup I reuse every visit.
I will first say that you can go the free route and just ask for ice water at any beverage station, because by law theme parks must provide patrons with water, which is of no cost to you. While they don't give you a whole lot when you do this it's nice knowing you have that option for free. These drinks do however come in a plastic-lined paper cup or plastic cup, which you have no choice but to toss after use. Depending on how hot the day is, you could easily be going to the stands for ice water multiple times in a day, resulting in you tossing many cups. I know I can down 20 oz at once sometimes, depending on how hot it is, all by myself. So I prefer to buy the park's refillable cup. From a zero-waste, plastic-free standpoint this might be a travesty. However, think of all of the non-recyclable cups you are avoiding, which could easily be a high amount on a hot day. Secondly, the cup is up to 30% made from plant materials and is 100% recyclable (#1 plastic)! In my eyes, that is a huge win for Busch Gardens and theme park freaks like me. Each season they usually make a new cup design, so one this summer is over I can either keep using the cup or recycle it and wait until next summer to find/purchase/borrow a new one. This cup is quite large, you can get it refilled anywhere in the park, and refills are usually less than a dollar. You could be really cheap and say you bought it that day for free refills (even if you did not, in fact, buy the cup that day) but paying maybe $4 for a day of drinks is worth it. $4 bought me 4 refills of whatever I wanted, including water, and I estimate I drank a total of 5 separate 20 oz refills, not including the water I first filled it with on the trip there and the water for the trip home, both of which were free.

Side note: this might sound gross, but you can also get them for free because even after buying them people leave them all over the park. My sister-in-law scored three free ones because after waiting through a whole show and then some, no one came back for the cups at a table near her. That's about $10 per cup, $30 total, for free. That you can reuse all season long, mind you. Just be sure to wash before use, of course.

5. If going to a drive-in (one of my favorite things to do in the summer), check their website/social media pages to see what food they offer and their prices. My drive-in's prices and menu are really reasonable (aka affordable AND can easily be made vegan) so I have no problem supporting them and eating the food provided. (Some people I know bring their own drinks/snacks, which is something I have done before and don't necessarily discourage, I just don't want to mention it here as my drive-in is locally and family run, and these people rely on our concession money to stay in business. Thus, since I love my drive-in, they are getting my popcorn money ;) )

6. If going to events or other outdoor festivals, follow general ZW guidelines and bring your own cup, napkin, straw (if needed), silverware/eating utensils, and plate/eating surface if you desire. You could also opt for foods like sandwiches, burritos, and other "handheld" eats. Bring a smaller jar or bag to carry your refuse with you if no good recycling/compost options are available. Of course, refuse plastic straws, napkins, and other single-use disposables when possible.

7. Art museums, nature parks, zoos, and other places may not pose any zero-waste problems for you and are in many cases (as they are around where I live) FREE! I also try to support my local area by visiting historical sites, monuments/landmarks, going on history/ghost tours, and other places that teach me the history of where I live and help me support my local community through tickets/donations. As a kid I went all over Virginia doing things like this and most of our family trips were educational and history centered but I LOVED them and they remain some of my most cherished memories to this day. Most of these events were free or low-cost and when I was a kid you were even rewarded with prizes depending on how many historical sites you visited during the summer.

8. Ultimately, do not deny yourself experiences for the sake of being zero-waste. If you happen to make some trash while having fun, it's not the end of the world. You live and you learn. You'll have had fun at best and at worst, learn some new tricks to avoid trash next time. Just don't become a homebody because that's less "trashy" (although I wholeheartedly love staying at home and highly recommend it 80% of the time :) ).

Hope this helps some of you get ideas for how to have zero-waste, eco-friendly fun this summer! Now, go outside and have some fun (especially before school starts again!)

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Pantry Essentials + Vegan Meal Ideas

As a vegan, like most vegans, I get a lot of stereotypical comments from people with average American diets. It can get a bit old explaining what should be common sense to people (yes, cheese is an animal product...) but I find the vegan lifestyle to be so fulfilling and rich I don't mind all the silly comments people can make sometimes. I think the biggest stereotype I'd like to attempt to bust today would be that vegan diets are hard, restrictive, or otherwise difficult to maintain; they really aren't! At first it may seem overwhelming because there is so much you have to remember to avoid, once you nail down a few staples in your diet it all becomes very easy. In my personal experience, having more limited options to choose from has made me more creative, frugal, and excited in the kitchen. If you've never watched vegan chefs or looked at vegan recipes online, I highly recommend you do so, because those people are pioneers in the culinary world and some of their recipes are so innovative (whether you are a "foodie" or not).

Anyway, here is a list of my basic pantry staples that I keep around at any given time. I find having these items in my pantry makes meal planning and cooking so much easier for me as many of them are multi-purpose and can be used for many different meals or recipes. I definitely prefer simple meals made with simple, cheap ingredients. Being vegan doesn't mean spending all of your money on food, and certainly not a large chunk of it on specialty vegan foods. The simplest foods on earth are vegan. I should also mention I get all of these foods zero-waste or package free by buying mostly produce and anything else in recyclable packaging or through bulk bin stores (unless otherwise noted). I'll have a post coming up soon about where I shop in my rural town, so stay tuned!

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

1 Year Zero-Waste, My Journey: How I did it and what I learned

My waste from May 2015 to present.
This past May marked my one year anniversary being zero-waste. While I wasn't as zero-waste as I would have liked (my waste definitely DOES NOT fit into a jar at this point, no shame) I learned a lot through the process and all in all, made about half a garbage bag's worth of trash through the year. Really not all that bad, and damn did I work hard to get it there! I hope next year to do even better and continually reduce my trash outputs as much as I can. I still can't believe it's even been a year!

I hope to divert a lot of this remaining waste from going to landfill by turning it into a commemorative art project. I'm thinking something along the lines of collage or mixed media project...I am still experimenting with techniques but am eager to show it off once it's finished. I hope that this project will greatly reduce my trash from this year if not entirely eliminate it. I'll make sure to include all the details in an upcoming post. ;)

So, onto my first year as a zero-waster. I first started out in May of last year, the year I graduated from college. I was really into minimalism and reducing my possessions at the time, especially since I had moved to a super small apartment in my town. It wasn't too bad, but my husband and I quickly learned we would have to get rid of a lot of things to be comfortable in our new space. I was watching a lot of Youtube videos, reading articles, and listening to Marie Kondo's now infamous book on Audible while I whittled down my possessions. During that time I got rid of nearly everything I owned either by selling it, donating it, or giving it away to family members or friends. I kept the bare essentials and some sentimental items I wasn't ready to deal with yet. I was really proud of myself at this time, because I was able to make use of the (very small and limited) built-in storage my apartment had without having to rely on other pieces of furniture or organizing equipment. I felt so light during this process.

During this time, I also became very interested in picking up litter around my neighborhood because it was everywhere. I felt so strongly about it I figured the best thing to do was to just do something about it instead of complaining, and that turned into spending some weekend mornings collecting other's litter and garbage, hence my old blog name, "Litter Lady". All of my posts during that time are still available for reading if interested, located in the sidebar.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Summer is here...

And I figure it's time for a change. Hence, this new blog layout and new domain!

If you read no further, please note that I will no longer be posting to or updating Litter Lady. All future entries will be posted here, so please subscribe if you'd like to stay tuned.

I have been a Weebly fan for years now, and in fact run several websites through them. They are a great free website service and I will continue to use them for my personal and professional portfolio sites. However, I felt that Litter Lady, while a good starter site, was still lacking in some ways. I lacked control over blog layout and publishing, and I couldn't schedule posts (very annoying). I liked the way Weebly made their layout creation/site editing page, but it kept crashing my Chromebook. All in all, I felt a bit "stuck" with the whole thing and it didn't motivate me to continue working with Weebly and I stopped touching my site for a while to scout other options. Not to mention, to unlock all of the features I liked (such as custom domain, more control over site, etc.) I would have to put down some serious cash in my frugal perspective. Definitely not the amount of money I wanted to spend on something I basically consider a hobby.

And that is basically how we got to here. I bought the domain off Google Domains (which I highly recommend), and instantly connected it to a new Blogger account. I found everything I have been looking for in a website/blog for just over $10. And that's for a year, mind you. I couldn't be more happy with the process, especially for someone who, while computer savvy, is not website hosting/DNS/other internet technical terms savvy. (I should mention none of this is sponsored, just felt it might be helpful to those who are like me and want to get away from freebie website builders and progress to something a bit more professional and within your control and financial means).

And that's how we got to here. I will no longer be updating or managing my old site so if you were a reader there please keep up with me on this blog for future and of course more up-to-date posts. I will have more posts coming soon, I apologize for the lack of my usual timely, weekly posts; I have been enjoying the first weeks of my summer break a bit too much. There is so much growing in the garden I want to show you, so many new things I've learned I want to talk much I want to share. Stay tuned, I plan on uploading more this week. ;)